The Star-Herald

Access to affordable health care is vital for all Mainers

For years, too many Maine families have struggled to pay for medical care, ranging from routine doctor visits and prescriptions, to emergency treatment. Across the U.S., 40 percent of adults say they don’t have enough cash in the bank to cover a $400 emergency expense. At the same time, the average emergency room visit costs more than $1,300. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on many holes in our safety nets, systems and infrastructure. One of the most glaring problems is that there are people across The County and Maine who don’t have access to affordable health care. 

We know that a key to controlling the pandemic is universal access to testing. But for months, Mainers who were uninsured struggled to get access to tests. Even once testing capacity was increased, many people found they couldn’t get tested without a doctor’s note. How do you get a doctor’s note without a primary care physician and insurance? I heard from constituents who wanted to get tested that clinic and hospital staff told them to simply stay home and call back if their symptoms got worse. If you’re worried that you might have a serious or potentially deadly virus, this is not reassuring advice to hear.

 Thankfully, drive-up testing sites are being opened across the state. But for people in rural communities like ours, this can still leave gaps for people to fall through. Anyone in The County will be able to tell you that being able to get to a doctor or the hospital can be just as challenging as paying for treatment. Rural hospitals across the country are shuttering or are in danger of closing. 

This is terrible. People in need of emergency treatment need to know they’ll be able to get that treatment fast. In the middle of a pandemic, this is even more critical. Last year, my colleagues and I in the Legislature provided vital funding to keep the doors on our rural hospitals open and ambulance services running. This year, I sponsored a law that allowed ambulance service to keep running in Blaine, Bridgewater and Mars Hill. These are important steps in the right direction, but I know more needs to be done.

There’s promising news coming out about medication that will help COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms survive and recover. But we must do all we can to make sure this medication is accessible and affordable to all people who need it, regardless of income and health insurance coverage. Right now, one in four Americans struggle to afford their regular prescriptions. One in 10 Americans say they skip doses or take lower doses just to stay afloat. Because of this, I worked to pass laws last year and this year to make prescription drugs more affordable, and to protect Maine patients from abusive medical billing practices.  It is our moral duty to make sure that no one has to worry about whether they can afford a life-saving drug — especially now. 

 I want you to know that even though I’m not working out of the State House right now, I’m still here for you and your family. I believe that no hardworking Mainer should ever have to forgo or put off medical treatment because they can’t afford it. If you ever need anything, or if you have questions, concerns or ideas you want to share with me, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can email me at Mike.Carpenter@legislature.maine.gov or call 287-1515 or 532-8197. 

Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, represents Maine Senate District 2, which consists of central and southern Aroostook County and part of Penobscot County.

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