Maine is a rural state and access to health care needs to be a central concern in current efforts to reform the system. Recent statistics indicate that just over 118,000 Mainers are uninsured. Many others are underinsured. The need for reform is undeniable, but so is the need to get it right.
I commend President Obama for making health care reform a priority. But health care reform is too big of an issue to rush, and it’s important that Mainers know what it consists of before Congress votes on it.
That’s why I recently sent a letter with my colleagues that asked Congressional leaders to promote an open and bipartisan process that allows Members of Congress and the American people sufficient time to review the bill and add their input. Our letter also requested that Congress live up to the President’s goals of passing comprehensive reform that is deficit-neutral and that lowers costs for our families and businesses, increases the quality of care provided, and expands access for every American. In addition, we urged Congressional leaders to make sure that small businesses are treated fairly in any reform efforts.
I have also been working hard to push for policy fixes that will promote equality between rural and urban areas of our country. I support a public insurance option, but I also believe that it is important that it be affordable and properly structured to address the needs of rural states like Maine.
One policy in particular hits close to home: reimbursement rates for local providers.
Draft health care reform bills suggest the use of Medicare-like rates for a public option. This could negatively impact Maine because the current formula used to reimburse physicians and hospitals through Medicare puts rural states at a disadvantage by undercutting payments to our health care providers and contributing to higher health care premiums in Maine. Making matters worse, there is a severe shortage of health care providers in our state, and this number will continue to decrease unless we can develop a reimbursement system that will not drive our providers out of business and, ultimately, out of Maine altogether.
I have joined with a number of my colleagues in similarly situated states to advocate ending these geographical inequities. I remain hopeful that the final product will contain significant provisions to help rural areas retain and improve access to high quality health care services.
We have an historic opportunity to finally enact health care reform in our country. I have heard from many Mainers and the message is clear: the status quo is clearly unacceptable. Nationally, costs are skyrocketing, millions have no health insurance at all, and many millions more are underinsured.
In the end, we must fix what is currently broken to create a competitive public insurance option that providers can participate in and that Mainers can access. I remain optimistic that we can pass a bill that addresses inequities in the current system. But we must be thoughtful in the process and not squander this historic opportunity to bring the reality of affordable health care to all Americans.