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Setting Our Priorities: COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights

Guest Column

By Sen. Nate Libby

The start of 2021 has not been easy on any of us. We are halfway through February, and the COVID-19 pandemic remains at the forefront of our lives. As the Legislature reconvenes in a virtual format, we’re considering our first bill of the year, LD 1 “An Act to Establish a COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights.”

Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin), Maine District 21, the City of Lewiston. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Libby)

 The crux of the bill is this: If you’re impacted by COVID-19, you shouldn’t have to make tough decisions about seeking health care treatment because you’re worried about how to pay for it. My fellow legislators and I all share a responsibility to make sure Mainers have access to health care, in a pandemic or not. We also hold firm that it is our responsibility to ensure that Mainers do not have to worry whether or not they can afford that care. Access to care as well as affordability to that care are equally vital. LD 1 aims to build on the progress we made last legislative session and deal with new issues that have arisen during this difficult time.

 This bill would require state-regulated health care plans to cover and waive co-pays for COVID-19 screenings, testing and vaccinations, as well as expand telehealth options in the state of Maine. In other words, plans for public employees, individuals and small groups who purchase plans through the marketplace, and those covered by MaineCare are protected by provisions in LD 1.

 Ensuring that uninsured Mainers are adequately protected throughout the remainder of the pandemic is another major part of this bill. For instance, it would require that COVID-19 testing sites inform uninsured Mainers whether their test is covered under the current DHHS contract that offers free testing. If the site isn’t covered by the contract, patients must be informed of any costs for the test as well as other sites where they can get tested for free.

 The bill would also allow health care professionals to prescribe medications for a longer period during a state of an emergency, which would limit the number of trips folks have to make to the doctor’s office and pharmacy. It would provide for a wider array of health care providers to administer the vaccine, which will help ensure that Maine has the resources needed to efficiently distribute the vaccine as more doses become available. Lastly, this bill would expand coverage to other populations as the FDA approves COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use on more people, such as children under 16.

 The State only has authority to regulate certain types of health insurance plans. We do not have the authority to regulate private self-funded, employer-based health insurance plans or Medicare products, including Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans. Despite this, I still believe every Mainer should be granted these protections. I am hopeful that the federal government will follow Maine’s bold lead and pass similar measures that would protect Mainers with private insurance, as well as Americans across the country.

 It goes without saying that this pandemic has placed hardships on us all. Everyone knows that Mainers are resilient, but this bill takes extra necessary steps to make certain that the testing or vaccination process doesn’t add to anyone’s already full plate. I am optimistic about where we are at currently during this public health crisis, but there is still work to be done. In the meantime, we must all remain vigilant, stay safe, and continue to keep our distance. Thank you all for doing your part.

 If you have any questions, comments or ideas, you can always reach out to me at Nathan.Libby@legislature.maine.gov or by phone at (207) 287-1515.

Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin) represents Maine Senate District 21, which comprises the City of Lewiston.

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