LEWISTON – As he talked about how medical bills ravaged his parents’ lives, Jesse Stevens of Auburn teared up. The room grew quiet. Everyone paid attention.

Bills they couldn’t afford prompted Stevens’ parents to move out of the family home and into a mobile home, Stevens said.

Nick Peddle of Gorham said his grandfather is in his 70s and still working. He can’t retire because he needs the health coverage, Peddle said.

Vivian Ocharsky of Auburn said when her husband had stomach cancer, their insurance company refused certain chemotherapy treatment that could have prolonged his life. After he died in 2000, the insurance company canceled her policy, “leaving me with nothing.” She had medical bills she couldn’t afford, contributing to her losing their home.

With insurance companies, hospitals, doctors and drug makers focused on profits instead of patients, health care has become unaffordable, not just to those without insurance but to those with it, said people who crowded into a labor union hall Tuesday night.

A full house turned out to watch Michael Moore’s documentary, “Sicko,” hosted by the Western Maine Labor Council, the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine State Nurses Association.

After the film, the collective mood was anger. Americans should demand change from politicians, Ocharsky and Stevens said. But Stevens predicted that 99 percent of those there Tuesday night wouldn’t do anything differently Wednesday.

“Please prove me wrong,” he said.

A majority in the room did sign two petitions.

One, for H.R. 676, would create a national health insurance program. Under that legislation people are covered “cradle to grave. You get a card, you go to the doctor and you don’t get a bill,” said Peter Kellman of the Southern Maine Labor Council. The biggest way the plan is paid for is through payroll taxes, Kellman said. “Right now you pay 1.45 percent to Medicare. That goes up to 4.75, and that’s it.”

There are no insurance premiums or co-pays because there are no insurance companies, Kellman said. Now, 30 percent of health costs come from “insurance paperwork,” he said. Labor unions are collecting signatures for H.R. 676 to send to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine.

The second petition demands that Maine lawmakers approve universal single-payer health care. The petition says the system is broken and a new system is needed that’s accountable and puts patients before profits.

The Maine People’s Alliance goal is to get 15,000 signatures statewide to give to Maine legislators in January. “We want to make it clear it’s not just a few hundred MPA members” hurting from unaffordable care, said MPA’s Androscoggin Valley community organizer Kate Brennan.

“Far too many people in Lewiston-Auburn are uninsured or underinsured,” Brennan said. “People are having to sell the only home they ever owned to pay their health care bills. Or people are not getting the care they need, yet facing 10 or 13 percent annual increases in their policies.”

Labor unions are promoting a single, government-run health system because unaffordable care has become a problem even for those with jobs and insurance, said Matt Schlobohm of the Western Maine Labor Council.

It used to be that unions negotiated for wages, working conditions and benefits, but now health care dominates contract talks, he said. And as union members reach retirement age, more are finding they can’t afford to retire, especially if their spouse is ill or isn’t of Medicare age, Schlobohm said.

The goal of showing “Sicko” is to educate people about the crisis and show how single-payer systems work in other countries, he said. The movie strikes a chord for anyone who can’t afford care or who’s been denied care, Schlobohm said. “It speaks to them that this is wrong.”

The Maine State Nurses Association plans to promote a single-payer system by hosting “Sicko” house parties, said organizer Cathy Jo Herlihy.


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