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Governor’s Address: Health care for every Maine person

When my husband, Stan, suffered a stroke six years ago and passed away a year later, I got to be all too familiar with the ups and downs of health care and the health insurance industry and system in Maine. I became the “reassurer in chief” for our five daughters and the “treasurer in chief” for our family finances. I gave our friends some guarded hope…hope I didn’t always feel myself. But I was the strong one, the advocate, the informed one. Privately, I tried to figure out what the insurance would pay for and what it wouldn’t.

Now, I am a lawyer. At the time of my husband’s illness, I was Maine’s Attorney General.

I am no shrinking violet, but what about other families who are forced to do battle with health insurance companies at a time in their lives when they are least able to cope with a crisis? What about the families who don’t have any savings or income to pay the bills, the deductibles and copays and prescription drug costs?

Those families are why our administration has worked so hard to make health care coverage more affordable in Maine. In the last eight months, we’ve expanded MaineCare to more than 36,000 people, we put federal consumer protections into state law, we named an Opioid Response Director—Gordon Smith—to establish a Prevention and Recovery Cabinet, to distribute 35,000 units of the life-saving, anti-overdose medication Naloxone and to train 250 recovery coaches statewide. We also enacted bills to allow for the wholesale importation of prescription drugs, to create a prescription drug affordability board, to increase drug price transparency and to better regulate pharmacy benefit managers.

I am proud of the work we have done with the Legislature, but there is more we can do to reduce health care costs in Maine. So, earlier this month, I wrote to the federal government to tell them that Maine will pursue creating a State-Based Health Benefit Exchange on the Federal Platform—that’s a health exchange for Maine. This way, Maine can engage in outreach and marketing and consumer assistance. We can help you, the consume, while the federal government will retain the cost of the website and call center for health insurance eligibility and enrollment.

This move will allow us to reach out to communities and small businesses we know who need access to health insurance but who are hard to reach and don’t know where to turn.

Enrolling more people, especially if they are younger and healthier individuals, will improve the market overall and should really lead to lower premiums for all people in health insurance plans. 

In addition to this, having a State-Based Marketplace on the Federal Platform will protect Maine from the attempts to sabotage affordable health care by politicians in Washington, D.C.

The cost to establish a State-Based Market is minimal. In fact, we may even get back money from the federal government—some of the fees they already take from firms doing business in Maine—and the benefits will be large.

Maine will call the shots on educating and engaging consumers and supporting the navigators for open-enrollment periods.

I’ll be introducing legislation to establish the details of the new State Based Marketplace when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

You know, Stan and I were lucky, we had health insurance. But boy, dealing with copays and deductibles and the high cost of prescription drugs is such a challenge for all of us, and is an even greater challenge, of course, if you’re not lucky enough to have health insurance.

Health care coverage—I know you agree —should not be a luxury, or some privilege reserved for well to do people—it is a human right.

It is for Stan. It is for every Mainer. It is for you. It is for all of our state.

As governor, my goal is to ensure affordable, accessible health care for every Maine person, every small business, every self-employed person, every entrepreneur and every family across the state. Establishing this State-Based Health Benefit Exchange is one more step toward that goal.

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