On Thursday, the Legislature’s Committee on Insurance and Financial Services will hear testimony from the public about a bill proposing universal health care — including dental, behavioral health, vision and hearing care — for Maine. The intention of the “Healthy Maine Act,” LD 1274, is to change our health care system from one dependent on private insurance companies into one that is publicly funded. It would be like an improved Medicare system for all of us.
When I learned about the bill, proposed by Lewiston Democrat Rep. Heidi Brooks, I was giddy. We can do this, Maine! We can make sure everyone in Maine has high quality medical (and behavioral health, dental and vision) care without dealing with insurance companies or deductibles or expensive co-pays.
Of course, not everyone supports the idea of universal health care, which is sometimes referred to as “single payer” or “Medicare for all.” While a majority of Americans support it, I’ve been trying to understand the 40 percent of Americans who don’t. Somehow, there are people who must want to keep dealing with insurance companies, while paying insanely high insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
Is it because universal health care seems too good to be true? Certainly people don’t enjoy paying their hard-earned money to insurance companies whose method of profit making is denying claims, do they?
Maybe the reason people aren’t madly calling their representatives insisting they vote for universal health care is because of what we call it. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in 2016 showed that more than 70 percent of Americans support “Medicare for all,” but weren’t as fond of “ single payer” or “universal” health care. Perhaps some big marketing firm should come up with a catchy name for it and we’d all support it?
The issue must be that people don’t understand what “universal health care” means. I don’t mean this as an insult to anyone. I think it must simply be that good information hasn’t gotten through to everyone.
Whatever we call it, universal health care — or single payer, or Medicare for all — would mean never paying deductibles; copays would be set on a sliding scale. It would mean you can keep your doctor, or choose any primary care doctor or hospital you want because the government will pay them. It’s worth noting that more than 20,000 doctors, medical students and health care workers support universal health care. Universal health care means pre-existing conditions would absolutely be covered; all necessary medical care will be covered.
But how would we pay for it? We would pay for everyone’s health care through taxes. The taxes would be much less than any insurance premiums we are paying now, even less than those slightly lower rates made available through the Affordable Care Act.
Referring to the legislation being considered in Maine, “The taxpayers of Maine who would be paying through a ‘health tax,’ for want of a better phrase, and in lieu of paying insurance premiums,” notes Maine AllCare’s, Joe Lendvai, “all insurance premiums would go away and people would pay less and get more — real comprehensive health care for every Maine person.”
The fact is, we already do pay taxes for health care for many people. We pay for health care for seniors and veterans, as we should. In fact, about 60 percent of our health care system is financed by public money.
With universal health care, doctors and patients could make medical decisions together without consulting insurance companies. There would be no insurance companies in the business of denying medical claims. Serious illnesses or accidents would not put anyone at risk of bankruptcy.
Seeing your doctor, dentist, or therapist without deductibles or expensive co-pays is not too good to be true. It’s a real possibility. We just need to let our representatives know we want them to support universal health care.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. Her small business helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns appear monthly.