Health care complaints aired at forum

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LEWISTON — People who turned out for a community health care forum Tuesday evening lauded Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins for her opposition to the latest Republican health care bill.

They lamented the lack of universal health care. 

They railed against the complexity of the current system that doesn’t let them easily access their own medical records, tell them how much a doctor’s visit is beforehand or help head off major illnesses by paying more often for preventive care.

And the four panelists, all health care experts from the area, largely agreed.

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“Attorney General Janet Mills lost her husband to a stroke — this is the attorney general of the state of Maine and when Stan had his stroke, she couldn’t understand the bills, she couldn’t understand the care; she was overwhelmed,” said Gordon Smith, executive vice president for the Maine Medical Association. “If the attorney general of the state can’t figure this out, what hope is there for somebody that’s not as well-educated, who is with their loved one in a situation like that?”

The health care forum was the third in a statewide series offered by AARP Maine. It was hosted by the Lewiston Public Library.

Along with Smith, panelists included Kenneth Albert, head of Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice and a member of the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee; Steve Butterfield, policy director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care; and Abdulkerim Said, head of the New Mainers Public Health Initiative and a member of the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee.

For nearly two hours, panelists and attendees talked about the problems with health care and possible solutions. Many enthusiastically touted the joys of single-payer, universal health care, while others were more cautious.

All were happy that Collins came out against the bill proposed by U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Florida. The bill would have overhauled Medicaid and overturned the Affordable Care Act. Collins’ opposition helped seal the bill’s death Tuesday, just hours before the forum began. 

“She saved us from disaster,” Said said.

Butterfield, of Consumers for Affordable Healthcare, credited voters for speaking up against that bill and the similar proposals that have preceded it this year. 

“The day after the election last fall, I knew for a fact the ACA was done,” he said. “I knew there was no possible scenario in which Congress and this president didn’t have an ACA repeal done the day of the inauguration. Here’s the thing, it’s September, in fact almost October, and they didn’t do it. And that wasn’t because they didn’t decide not to. It was because each and every one of you and millions of people across the country told them no.”

Much of the discussion focused on what panelists and attendees saw as problems with the current system, including lack of access, too much complexity, profit-seeking insurers and drug companies and partisan politics. High costs were one of the biggest concerns.

Smith, whose Maine Medical Association represents 4,000 doctors, believed savings were possible.

“Very few things today need to be done in the hospital. Yet in Maine we have 37 hospitals,” he said. “I’ll leave it with this: The way to make the system better and to reduce costs is to build it on primary care.”

When the panelists were asked, in the last minutes of the forum, to talk about their hopes for the future, Smith focused on people, not the system. 

“I think we’re very fortunate in Maine,” he said. “We have wonderful nurses, we have wonderful doctors. We have people working in hospitals who really care. I think in this case smaller is better. I think people really care about each other. That will sustain us in our dark times.”

AARP’s next community health care forums will be held Oct. 11 at the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford, Oct. 16 at the Skowhegan Community Center and Oct. 23 at the Blue Hill Public Library.

ltice@sunjournal.com

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