It will be devastating for the country, and for Maine in particular, if the Senate passes its health care bill. Fourteen million Americans will lose their health insurance coverage by next year under the bill, and 22 million will lose it by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But what does that mean for Mainers? How will people in our state be affected?
The impacts of health insurance are complicated. But on a basic level, having health insurance coverage, whether from the private market or Medicaid, is positive. And losing health coverage has all sorts of negative consequences.
One is psychological. The uncertainty and fear of not having health insurance are real and significant, even if hard to measure. The security provided by health insurance also is tangible and important.
But here’s a vivid and concrete way losing health care will affect people in this state. More people will die prematurely. Under the Senate bill, in Maine 117,900 people, about 9 percent of our population, will lose coverage. And as a result, 142 more Mainers will die in 2026 alone, according to an analysis by public health experts of the Congressional Budget Office report and other scientific publications.
One hundred forty-two people. This would be a tragedy, and a preventable one at that. What if one of those 142 avoidable deaths is your sister, parent, child or other loved one?
These numbers show that expanding health insurance coverage, whether through private insurance, Medicaid or both, prevents more deaths. This prevention is marked among treatable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This makes perfect sense. People are able to get regular medical care for treatable diseases, so fewer people die from them.
By the same token, decreasing health coverage causes deaths to increase. If it is hard or impossible to get treatment for a disease, as is the case for some people who lack health coverage, more people will die from their illnesses.
Fortunately, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has come out in opposition to the Senate bill — the Better Care Reconciliation Act — for its many failings and won’t vote for the bill in its current form. She noted on Twitter that “Medicaid cuts hurt most vulnerable Americans; access to health care in rural areas threatened” by the bill.
Indeed, in this state where, as Collins points out, one in five Mainers are on Medicaid, the cuts the Senate bill makes to the Medicaid program harm those who are least able to absorb the losses to their health care. Now, as the GOP tries to round up the votes for a revised health bill, I hope that Collins sticks by the people of Maine. This law is bad for our state, and if passed, it will lead to unnecessary suffering and deaths.
A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that fewer than four in 10 voters back the Senate health bill, mirroring a lack of support for the House’s American Health Care Act. A recent analysis concluded that in not even one state did a majority of the population support the House bill. In Maine, 49 percent of people opposed the bill, while only 30 percent approved of it.
If the Senate bill passes, it will lead to more people dying. How can that be “better care” for the people of Maine? Perhaps a better name of the bill would be the “Bitter Care Reconciliation Act.”
Jennifer Wriggins is a professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. She is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.