Maine’s largest hospitals say the time is right to overhaul the United States’ health care system.

They just hope any eventual plan doesn’t hurt Maine more than it helps.

“Of course, every day you hear something new, and the next day it may be something contradictory, but at least progress is being made and we think, overall, in the right direction,” said James Cassidy, president and CEO of Sisters of Charity Health System in Lewiston.

“However, we always have to be concerned about the details, because we know where the devil is, right?” he said.

Although two U.S. Senate committees plan to come out with their own proposals, only the U.S. House of Representatives has a concrete plan to overhaul health care. The American Medical Association has endorsed the House’s proposal, saying it covers all Americans, reforms Medicare and, best of all, meets the needs of patients and doctors.

But the 1,000-page House bill remains controversial. Some say it will cost too much — adding $239 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — and will make the government too heavily involved in health care. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama held a prime-time news conference to push for health care reform

In Maine’s medical circles, there are a lot of opinions — both on health care reform in general and the House proposal in particular.

Of the state’s five largest hospitals, only MaineGeneral Health in Augusta and Waterville declined to comment. Spokesman Eric Conrad said the situation is too fluid for the hospital group to offer an opinion.

But other large hospitals, the Maine Medical Association and Consumers for Affordable Health Care all gave an opinion: They’re eager for reform.

“I don’t hear any defenders of the status quo,” said Chuck Gill, spokesman for Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, which also owns Rumford and Bridgton hospitals.

Gill and others say they want more patients covered and they want them covered sooner rather than later. But at the same time, they want reform done right. So while Obama has said he wants the House and Senate to pass health care reform before they leave for summer break in August, they say the country would be better off waiting weeks, even months, for a well-reasoned, well-crafted reform rather than a rushed piece of legislation.

Maine hospitals and health groups like some parts of the House bill. They’re happy that it would expand health care coverage to most Americans. They believe it would provide some badly needed reform to Medicare and would reward quality care, not quantity.

“On balance, we think there’s more good than bad and we want to work with the House leadership to improve those things in the bill that we don’t support,” said Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association.

The MMA and leaders at the state’s largest hospitals are concerned that Medicare reimbursements, which are already very low in Maine, will be slashed even further. They worry that any government-backed health insurance will pay only at the Medicare rate and may not be enough to cover their costs.

If that happens, Gill said, “We’re doomed.”

Some are concerned that there isn’t enough emphasis on personal responsibility. They say, for example, that patients don’t receive enough of an incentive to get preventive care.

Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a consumer health coalition made up of 40 businesses and organizations, is concerned about affordability for patients. It recently wrote to Maine’s legislative delegation asking it to ensure that people with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level wouldn’t have to pay for insurance, and that people with incomes 200 to 400 percent of the poverty level would be required only to make modest contributions.

Consumers for Affordable Health Care and others say they remain hopeful that the problems can be fixed and that good reform is possible.

Because the current system, they say, simply isn’t working.

Said Michelle Hood, president and CEO of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, which runs Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center, “My biggest hope is that reform just doesn’t get completely blown out of the water.”

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