It’s time for a health care system that puts patients first

Health care is a human right, and fixing our broken health care system has been one of my top priorities in the Legislature. Last year, we passed a suite of bills aimed at controlling and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. This year, I am supporting the Patients First bill package to cap out-of-control medical costs and make sure the needs of patients are the top priority of our health care system.

The cost of health care is a huge concern for so many Mainers. On average, we spend more on health care than other states, and unfortunately in our state and local community, there are many who are forced to choose between paying for health care and other necessities like food, heating oil or their mortgage. 

Health care costs are squeezing household budgets, keeping people from getting ahead and harming the most vulnerable members of our community. Reining in out-of-control health care costs is a critical first step to fixing our broken health care system.

To do that, we have to identify what is driving cost increases in our health care system, improve transparency in the cost of care, take steps to protect patients and develop data-driven policies to lower costs.

One of the bills in the Patients First health care package, LD 2110, “An Act To Lower Health Care Costs” from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would set up a Maine Commission on Affordable Health Care to do just that. The Commission would examine the health care system in Maine and identify factors driving up costs, then make recommendations to the Legislature to solve those problems. 

The Commission would also advocate for Mainers who have medical billing issues or other problems with their insurance companies. Several states, including Vermont, have similar commissions doing this work, and it’s time we followed suit.

The Patients First health care package also seeks to take immediate action in a few areas where we know there is a real problem. LD 2096, “An Act To Save Lives by Capping the Out-of-pocket Cost of Certain Medications,” introduced by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would cap the out-of-pocket costs for insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply. 

The average annual cost of insulin for treating Type 1 diabetes in the United States has nearly doubled in the past five years, from $2,864 to $5,705 per person. Despite this, there has been no meaningful action on the federal level to regulate these costs, so it is up to us at the state level to step up and do what we can.

Unfortunately, as a state we can only go so far, but changes at the state level will amplify the need for federal reform.

Two other bills in the package also seek to take immediate action to ensure that the needs of patients come first in our health care system. LD 2111, “An Act To Establish Patient Protections in Billing for Health Care,” introduced by Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, and LD 2105, “An Act To Protect Consumers from Surprise Emergency Medical Bills,” introduced by Speaker Gideon, seek to make health care billing practices more transparent. 

Sen. Claxton’s bill requires providers to tell patients whether a service they’re providing is covered by their insurance company before they perform the service, and requires bills to be charged in a timely fashion, or the patient doesn’t have to pay. 

Speaker Gideon’s bill aims to do away with surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers and gives patients the ability to dispute surprise bills they receive that are more than $750.

With these changes, we can start to build a health care system that puts patients first instead of profits.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, I want to hear from you. You can reach me by email at James.Dill@legislature.maine.gov or by phone at 207-287-1515. I work for you, and you have a right to hold me accountable.

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