The warm spring weather did not stop the 40 plus individuals from attending the Wednesday, April 11, public forum and panel discussion on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) held at the Windham Public Library from 6 to 8 p.m.
The intention of the public forum was to inform, educate, and discover how one can be a part of the discussion and debate surrounding the ACA; what to expect in the future as well as what steps an individual can take to be an active participant in the development of affordable healthcare
Briefly, ACA - often referred to as Obama Care - is a law that was enacted in 2010 to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable healthcare. Since its inception there have been over 60 legislative and judiciary challenges. The Supreme Court has upheld it. Recently, the goal to repeal and replace the ACA failed in Congress.
With the expectation that the debate surrounding the various issues of ACA will continue, the public forum, with a panel of seven experts were available for questions and answers - as well as a lively and civil discourse with the community.
Genevieve Pluhowski was co-organizer of the event and moderator for the evening and she introduced the members of the panel. They included the following:
Dr. Jane Pringle, Board-certified in internal medicine, member of the Maine House of Representatives from 2012 to 2014 and past Medical Director at Unum Life Insurance Company. Dr. Linda Sanborn, retired physician in family medicine and member of the Maine House of Representatives, from 2008 to 2016 (Gorham).
Gordon Smith, Esq., Executive Vice President of Maine Medical Association since 1993 and leading expert in the field of responding to the opioid crisis in Maine.
Lori Parham, PhD, Maine State Director of AARP as well as past senior advisor to AARP's Executive Vice President in Washington D.C.
Kate Brogan, J.D., Vice President for Public Affairs at the Family Planning Association of Maine.
Ann Woloson, J.D., Policy Analyst for Maine Equal Justice Partners, former Executive Director of Prescription Policy Choices and past policy writer for Maine's Medicaid program.
Dr. Philip Caper, Board member of Maine AllCare and of Health Resources in Action as well as past staff member on Ted Kennedy's sub-committee on health.
Topics discussed included, but were not limited to, the issues faced before the ACA and how it has changed the healthcare landscape after its inception. The successes and failures were deliberated as well.
“Before the ACA was enacted, 62 percent of the population found it difficult to obtain health insurance and 47 percent were denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions,” stated Sanborn. “There was also no guard against medical bankruptcy.”
Benefits that are now covered include mental health, pediatric, prenatal, preventive care - to include vision and dental to name a few.
Other unexpected benefits that were expressed by panel members included the fact that now a person can leave their current job that provides benefits to start their own business. Improved doctor/patient relationships was noted as a benefit, as well as how the ACA enables individuals to quickly return to a productive life after a health care crisis, becoming functioning and contributing members to society.
Issues that have been presented as disadvantages include, but not limited to, a gap in insurance coverage, often referred to as the Cliff Effect. High cost of insurance was also expressed.
The panel members also spoke about other subjects such as the Medicaid expansion, a widely popular viewpoint among Maine people that comes with bi-partisan support. Also discussed were single payer coverage, reproductive healthcare and cancer screening for both men and women at all 18 Maine Family Planning clinics, AARP’s support of the ACA, as well as the opioid addiction and crisis.
For those who experience gap in insurance coverage, it was recommended they contact the 2-1-1 Maine Search Guide as a resource. Healthcare navigators are available to help find programs for those who need assistance with healthcare. Consumers for Affordable Healthcare was also suggested as a resource.
“Although [it’s] not perfect, there have been many good outcomes as a result of the ACA,” stated Pringle.
The next steps and strategies were discussed by all present. Various suggestions included: joining an advocacy group, contacting your legislative representative and sharing your personal stories, as well as volunteering were some of the ideas expressed.
Also on hand in the audience to answer any questions, were representatives from Senator Susan Collins’ office, Senator Angus King’s office as well as Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s office. Senator Bill Diamond (Windham), Representative Jessica Fay (Raymond), Representative Mark Bryant (Windham) and Representative Dillon Bates (Westbrook) were also present.