A national consumer group is trying to get Mainers to push for public health care, and it’s going door to door in Lewiston-Auburn to do it.

The Prescription for Change lobbying effort is spearheaded by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The group toured the country last summer to collect stories about people’s struggles with affordable health care.

This spring, Prescription for Change is focusing on three states – Maine, Utah and North Carolina – in its campaign to create optional public health care.

The group says lawmakers from those states represent key votes on the issue, either because they could provide swing votes in Congress or because they sit on important committees.

The Senate’s Finance and Health committees, for example, are in charge of writing health care policy. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, is on the Finance Committee. North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr, a Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Democrat, are on the Health Committee. And Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican, serves on both committees.

In Maine, Prescription for Change has been canvassing Lewiston-Auburn for about three weeks and plans to stay for two more. It hopes to mount a similar campaign in Aroostook County.

Snowe was raised in Lewiston-Auburn and Collins was raised in Aroostook County, but Meg Bohne, a regional organizer, said the group didn’t choose those communities because of the senators’ ties. She said it picked Lewiston-Auburn because the Twin Cities are halfway between Portland, the state’s largest city, and Augusta, the state capital.

“Really, we just wanted to talk to people in a representative town in Maine,” she said.

Bohne said the group hopes to canvass Aroostook County because it wants views from across Maine, including the northern border.

In Lewiston-Auburn, Prescription for Change representatives have been going door to door, leaving informational door-hangers and asking people to share their health insurance horror stories. With approval, those stories are used in the group’s lobbying efforts. Representatives also ask people to contact their lawmakers and push for optional public health care.

“We just think people really need to have a voice,” Bohne said.

Health care reform is expected to be a hot topic this summer as several groups and lawmakers attempt to push through legislation to make health care more affordable and accessible. Some favor moderate changes to the current system in which private insurers are paid by employers or individuals. Others want more significant changes, including optional universal health care paid with public funds.

In recent weeks, Snowe has been participating in Finance Committee round-table meetings on health care. She favors reforming the current system and supports public health care only if all else fails.

“The solution lies in reforming and regulating markets to produce greater competition and lower costs, and ensure consumers are protected,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Merely inserting a government plan into the market is no panacea, and should be a last resort.”

Collins had not yet decided whether she supports optional public health care. She has met with the Finance Committee’s chairman and ranking member to urge them to focus on access, affordability, quality and the rights of patients to choose their own doctors as the committee considers reform legislation.

The committee is expected to produce a health care reform bill by June. Others, including President Barack Obama, plan to produce their own proposals.


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