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Health in Maine
  • Gov. LePagee vetoes Rep. Handy’s bill to expand access to hearing aids

     A bill by Rep. Jim Handy to help hearing-impaired Mainers purchase hearing aids was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage on July 3, 2018.

    “Hearing loss can have a profoundly negative impact on so many aspects of a person’s life, but most people who suffer from it don’t have the resources to pay for hearing aids out-of-pocket,” said Handy, D-Lewiston. “Improving access to hearing aids would improve the social, family and work life of thousands of Mainers. It should be a covered medical expense.”

    The measure requires insurance plans to cover a minimum of $3,000 per hearing aid for individuals with documented hearing loss beginning in January 2020. Current law only requires coverage for minors and at a lower minimum amount.

    “It’s a matter of just cents per policy. That’s a small price to pay to hear a grandchild’s voice for the first time. It’s a small price to pay to help someone in their fight against Alzheimer’s disease or to help more individuals participate in the workforce. There are so many positives,” said Handy.

    The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that approximately 65,000 Mainers suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Because most plans don’t include hearing aid coverage for adults, people with hearing loss are often left to cover the cost out-of-pocket.

    Studies show links between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia. Research suggests that measures as simple as increasing access to hearing aids could have a huge influence on healthy brain function and overall well-being.

    Hearing loss affects roughly 20 percent of American adults. According to data compiled by Gallaudet University through the American Community Survey, West Virginia has the largest percentage of adults with hearing loss, followed by Alaska and then Maine, tied with four other states.

    LD 192 passed “under the hammer,” or by unanimous consent, in the House. The vote was 25-7 in the Senate.

    The Legislature is expected to take up the veto when it meets Monday, July 9. It requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override the governor’s veto.

  • Maine Gov. LePage vetoes Gatttine’s bill to treat opioid addiction - legislature could over ride veto

    Bill sets up pilot treatment program for the homeless

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    On July 2, 2018 Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the Homeless Opioid Users Service Engagement Pilot (H.O.U.S.E.), a bill sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine to help Maine's most vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic.

    “In 2017, we lost 418 Mainers to the opioid epidemic. Things continue to get worse and it is hard to imagine why the governor would exercise his veto authority in such a heartless way. Opioid addiction has unique and particularly devastating impacts on Mainers who are already vulnerable and at risk, like the homeless,” said Rep. Gattine, D-Westbrook. “The pilot project in this bill is critical to finding the best way to help them.”

    H.O.U.S.E. is a pilot project that provides low-barrier treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery and create stability for 25 opioid users who are among the most vulnerable and unstable in Maine, including homeless, uninsured, underinsured and unemployed and are among the highest utilizers of inpatient hospital services and criminal justice system.

    Homeless individuals will have access to a “medication first” system of low-barrier Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and rapid housing with a creative menu of options to best meet the individual’s need and ensure paths to recovery. The bill had overwhelming support from the law enforcement, medical and treatment communityiesand received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

    “These are people who struggle every day to meet their most basic needs of food and shelter, and simply offering traditional treatment in traditional settings is an inadequate approach to helping them manage and maintain recovery,” said Rep. Gattine. “We need to meet them where they are to have a chance to really help them. To do anything less is a death sentence. I hope the Legislature is able to override this senseless veto.” 

    The vote on the bill was unanimous in the House and 16-15 in the Senate.

    The Legislature is expected to vote on overriding the veto when it convenes on Monday, July 9.  It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto.

    Gattine represents part of Westbrook and is in his third term in the Legislature. He serves as the House chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

  • LePage veto puts 70,000 at risk - healthcare advocates encourage sign up despite LePage actions

      By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Equal Justice Partners today encouraged Mainers who believe that they are eligible for health care coverage under the state’s Medicaid expansion law to file an application with the Department of Health and Human Services.

    “Medicaid expansion – and coverage for more than 70,000 Mainers – is the law,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, policy analyst for MEJP. “People who believe that they might be eligible for health care coverage should file an application, which will help to protect their rights to coverage.”

    Under the Medicaid expansion law, newly eligible Mainers can begin to apply for coverage beginning July 2, 2018. 

    Despite court orders to the contrary and funding from the Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage and his administration have not taken steps necessary to implement Medicaid expansion. 

    LePage’s willingness to ignore the law means that it is unlikely that newly eligible applicants will receive health care coverage immediately, but by filing an application they may become eligible for retroactive coverage.

    Maine Equal Justice Partners has developed an online tool available at www.mejp.org to help people determine if they are eligible for coverage through expansion.

    Mainers who believe they might be eligible can also call Maine Equal Justice’s hotline at 1-866-626-7059 for help with applying and to understand their rights.

    “Today, by law, more than 70,000 Mainers should have new access to health insurance and to the promise of a longer and healthier life that goes with it. My job, with each patient, is to help them achieve health. Health insurance saves lives,”Dr. Renee Fay-LeBlanc, chief medical officer at Greater Portland Health said.

    Here’s where the process stands.

    In November, voters overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion, but LePage refused to implement it. In April, a group of advocates and impacted individuals sued to force the LePage administration to implement the law.

    On June 4, the Maine Superior Court agreed with the people and ordered the LePage administration to begin the process of implementation by filing a State Plan Amendment, which allows the state to draw down federal funding, 90 percent of the total cost, to support expansion.

    On June 20, The Maine Supreme Judicial Court put that order on hold until July 18, when it will hear oral arguments on the administration’s request to hold off on submitting the state plan until the appeal is decided. That order does not impact the July 2 date in the Medicaid expansion law. 

    Also on June 20, the Legislature passed legislation to fund the full cost of expansion based on the cost estimated by the governor, taking away his last excuse for blocking access to health care. 

    Despite LePage’s promised veto of the funding bill, the funds are available to provide health coverage to people who are eligible until at least May 2019. The law the voters passed is still binding.

    Importantly, the Legislature will have an opportunity to override LePage’s veto.

    For more information about the Maine Equal Justice Partners, visit: www.mejp.org.

  • Maine's Gov. LePage vetoes Rep. Denno bill to improve oversight for DHHS handling of abuse cases

    On July 2, 2018 Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill sponsored by Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland, to improve oversight surrounding Maine Department of Health and Human Services procedures in addressing abuse cases. The bill was unanimously approved in the Senate and passed with a vote of 79-63 in the House. 

    “The governor never misses an opportunity to talk about Maine’s ‘most vulnerable’,” said Rep. Denno. “This bill would help protect people with developmental disabilities in the care of the state who are suffering serious injuries and death without any investigation.  This veto is a very hypocritical action.”

    Denno submitted the bill in response to a U. S. DHHS Inspector General’s report that found that Maine was not adequately investigating deaths and abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities. The bill, LD 1676, would require an examination of all deaths and serious injuries of persons with intellectual disabilities or autism receiving adult developmental services from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

    “This issue has been on my mind since the Inspector General’s report came out last year,” said Rep. Denno, who serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “I hope we are able to override this veto.” 

    The Legislature will on overriding the veto when they convene on Monday, July 9.  It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto. 

    Denno is serving his first term in the Maine Legislature and represents Cumberland and part of Gray. 

  • Maine's Gov. LePage vetoes Rep. Blume’s coastal hazards commission bill

    Gov. LePage vetoed Rep. Lydia Blume’s bill to create a commission to examine the threats posed by weather and climate-based hazards to Maine’s coastal communities on July 2, 2018.

    “I am very disappointed by the governor’s action,” said Blume, D-York. “From his veto letter, it is clear that he does not understand that while a number of agencies may be working on the issue, they are usually working independently. This bill would bring them together.”

    The bill adapts a model successfully used by New Hampshire to set up a commission consisting of a wide array of stakeholders and experts to assess the coastal risks and hazards brought about by the changing climate. The New Hampshire efforts resulted in a detailed recommendation report to help coastal communities prepare for and deal with future conditions.

    “The powerful storms of this past year have highlighted the need for this commission,” said Blume. “I hope that my colleagues in the Legislature recognize the timeliness and importance of this bill to our crucial coastline and vote with me to override the veto.”

    The bill, LD 1095, would create a broad-based working group with representatives from municipalities, state agencies, regional planners, legislators and other coastal stakeholders. It calls for a report back to the Legislature with findings detailing the hazards faced by coastal communities and the plans and resources needed to deal with them. The bill had passed the House with a vote of 86-58 and 24-9 in the Senate

    “The commission is critical to help us prepare for the kinds of changes that are now so evident,” Blume said. “Its work can provide the necessary guidance, coordination, direction and best practices to help all our coastal communities prepare for the hazards they face.”

    The Legislature is expected to vote on overriding the veto when they convene on Monday, July 9.  It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto.

    Blume is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents the coastal part of York.  She serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.

  • Maine lawmakers enact Gatttine’s bill to treat opioid addiction for homeless

    Bill sets up pilot treatment program for the homeless

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine State Legislature enacted Rep. Drew Gattine’s proposal June 21, 2018 to help homeless gain access to addiction therapy. The vote was unanimous in the House and 16-15 in the Senate.

    This is a civil rights issue.

    “Opioid addiction has unique and particularly devastating impacts on Mainers who are already vulnerable and at risk, like the homeless,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook. “In spite of the important things we’ve tried over the past few years, things are getting worse for homeless Mainers.”

     This bill, LD 1711, directs the Department of Health and Human Services to create programs to provide a bundle of services specifically designed to meet the challenges faced by people who are of extremely low income and homeless. It recognizes that people in this vulnerable situation need more than just medical treatment but also social supports, including housing assistance and intensive case management.  As a pilot program, enrollment will be limited to 25 individuals.

    “These are people who struggle every day to meet their most basic needs of food and shelter, and simply offering traditional treatment in traditional settings is an inadequate approach to helping them manage and maintain recovery,” Gattine said. “We need to meet them where they are to have a chance to really help them.” 

    The bill now goes to the governor, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

    Gattine represents part of Westbrook and is in his third term in the Legislature. He serves as the House chair of the Appropriations Committee.

     

  • Senate Farm Bill the Right Approach For Tackling Maine’s Growing Hunger Issues

    During the markup of the Senate Farm Bill, introduced as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 13th, anti-hunger advocacy groups including Good Shepherd Food Bank, Preble Street and Maine Equal Justice Partners praised the bill’s bipartisan effort to strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, which is critical for hungry Mainers.

     Unlike the highly partisan House Farm Bill, H.R. 2, which failed to pass in the House in early June, the Senate’s bill could help stem Maine’s growing hunger problem. More than 16 percent of Maine households are food insecure, placing the state 7thin the nation overall, and the trend is worsening.

    “Maine should insist on a Farm Bill that strengthens and protects SNAP because it’s the single most effective tool we have for feeding hungry Maine families,” said Clara McConnell, director of public affairs at Good Shepherd Food Bank. “Food banks like ours offer essential food assistance, but cannot substitute for SNAP, which provides a regular source of nutritious food at a scale far greater than what charities do, and in a more accessible way. This is about families being able to put enough food on the table, and kids having enough breakfast in their bellies to learn and grow.”

    The Senate bill strengthens SNAP by testing new tools to further improve program integrity, supporting states like Maine that want to try innovative solutions to helping SNAP participants get and keep a job, and enhancing access and reducing burdensome paperwork for older Mainers and people with disabilities. 

    Advocates expressed support for the bill as drafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow and urged US Sen. Susan Collins and US Sen. King to support the bill without any harmful amendments that could weaken SNAP.

    Preble Street’s executive director Mark Swann added, “We encourage Maine’s senators to follow the committee’s lead in protecting SNAP by opposing any amendments that would cut SNAP or make harmful changes that would take away food assistance from struggling families in Maine.”  

    While the Senate bill provides adequate funding and promotes program integrity in SNAP, the advocates expressed a desire to work with Maine’s Senate delegation to improve funding levels for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a critical source of food for millions of individuals and families across the country. 

    The organizations applauded the Senate for not following the House’s lead on harsh and unworkable time limits and work requirements for SNAP recipients, a policy which Maine has tested unsuccessfully since 2014. In Maine’s experimentwith work requirements, thousands have lost benefits without finding work, leaving them hungrier and with few or no places to turn.  

    Chris Hastedt from Maine Equal Justice Partners cautioned, “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model wouldn’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They would only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. The Senate is taking the right approach by providing more work-supporting policies and maintaining benefits for people in need.”

  • Court Rules LePage Administration Has To Follow Medicaid Expansion Law


    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine Superior Court today ruled that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the LePage administration must follow the voter-passed Medicaid expansion law and submit a State Plan Amendment. 

    The court set a deadline of June 11, 2018 for DHHS to comply.

    “Today is a victory for the 70,000 Mainers who stand to gain coverage from Medicaid expansion and for everyone who believes that health care should be a right for all, not just a privilege for a wealthy few. Thanks to today’s ruling, Governor Paul LePage will finally be forced to respect the will of Maine’s voters who voted overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid last November,” said the Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez. “It’s time for Republicans like LePage to stop playing political games with the health care of their own constituents and start getting serious about joining Democratic efforts to make it easier, not harder, for every family to access the care they deserve.”

    Maine Equal Justice Partners, (MEJP) Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine Primary Care Association, Penobscot Community Health Care and five individuals sued the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on April 30, 2018.

    “The governor cannot ignore the law,” said Robyn Merrill, executive director for MEJP. “Maine voters did not make a request at the ballot, they passed a law, and laws are not optional. Today’s ruling is good news for more than 70,000 Mainers who the law says can sign up for health care on July 2, 2018.” 

    The law Maine voters passed in November of 2017 required the state to file paperwork – a State Plan Amendment – with the federal government on April 3, 2018 so that Maine can draw down federal matching funds that will cover most of the costs for Medicaid expansion.  

    The LePage administration refused to file the State Plan Amendment. 

    The pro bono legal team in the expansion case is led by James Kilbreth and David Kallin of Drummond Woodsum, and includes Jack Comart of Maine Equal Justice and Charlie Dingman of PretiFlaherty.

    Maine Equal Justice Partners is a civil legal aid organization that represents Maine people with low income in areas of economic security, including access to health care. 

    Photo: Concerned citizens protested outside the Maine State Capitol when Governor LePage was giving his State of the State address. Their message: obey the law Governor and implement the healthcare we the people voted for.

  • Maine Joins Coalition of 17 States to Defend National Clean Car Rules

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx
    During the first week in April, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills joined a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to preserve the greenhouse gas emission standards currently in place for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. 
    This 17 state coalition represents approximately 44 percent of the U.S. population and 43 percent of the new car sales market nationally.
    The standards save drivers money at the pump, reduce oil consumption, and curb greenhouse gases.
    "We will not stand quietly by and watch the Trump Administration unwind important federal environmental protections, and these greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles are critical to curbing the impacts of climate change. Our suit today will ensure EPA does not get away with scrapping these rules when it has no factual or legal basis to do so," said Mills.

    Beginning in 2010, the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and California Air Resources Board established a single national program of greenhouse gas emissions standards for model year 2012-2025 vehicles. This program allows automakers to design and manufacture to a single target. The federal standards the states are suing to protect, for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, are estimated to reduce carbon pollution equivalent to 134 coal power plants burning for a year and to save drivers $1,650 per vehicle.
    At present, the car industry is on track to meet or exceed these standards. Last year, the EPA affirmed these standards were appropriate based on an extensive record of data. On April 13, 2018, however, the EPA, without evidence to support the decision, arbitrarily reversed course and claimed that the greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2022-2025 vehicles should be scrapped.
    The Administration offered no evidence to support this decision and deferred any analysis to a forthcoming rulemaking designed to try to weaken the existing 2022-2025 standards. 
    Today's lawsuit was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The lawsuit is based on the fact that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously, failed to follow its own Clean Car regulations, and violated the Clean Air Act.
    Joining Maine in today's lawsuit filing were the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania (also filed by and through its Department of Environmental Protection), Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Minnesota filed by and through its Pollution Control Agency and Department of Transportation.
  • Health Care advocates sue Gov. LePage to force compliance with Medicaid Expansion Law

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Equal Justice Partners, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine Primary Care Association and Penobscot Community Health Care filed suit along with five individuals against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to compel the agency to begin implementing Medicaid expansion as required by state law.

    The lawsuit lays out the facts about the Medicaid expansion law, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2017.

     “There are no excuses to deny health care to more than 70,000 Mainers,” said Kathy Phelps, a member of the leadership team for Mainers for Health Care, which advocated for Medicaid expansion at the ballot box. “Some of the individual plaintiffs wanted to be here today but could not because they are in poor health. They are home, waiting to see a doctor, waiting to be well. Lives are on the line. It’s time to respect the vote and implement the law.” 

    The law passed by voters last November required Maine DHHS to submit a plan for implementation to the federal government by April 3, 2018. Because that deadline passed, the plaintiffs say it is clear that DHHS commissioner Ricker Hamilton either failed or refused to take the steps necessary to extend affordable health care to Mainers who earn roughly 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,753. 

    “The LePage administration is breaking the law,” said Jack Comart, an attorney with Maine Equal Justice Partners. “People have a right to coverage starting in July, and the Department of Health and Human Services cannot ignore the law. We are asking the court to order the department to simply follow the law and take immediate action to begin implementing Medicaid expansion.”

     Comart noted that the five individuals in the suit, “come from all over Maine, and they’re struggling to overcome poor health and disabilities. Some of them are working, others are caring for disabled children. They all will be eligible for Medicaid, according to Maine’s new law, on July 2.”

    “The governor’s inaction and the Department of Health and Human Services’ failure to follow the law will directly harm these families and thousands more in every part of Maine.” 

    • The Medicaid expansion law required Maine DHHS to submit a State Plan Amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by April 3, 90 days after the Jan. 3 effective date.
    • The Medicaid Expansion Act sets no conditions for the submission of the State Plan Amendment.
    • The commissioner of DHHS has failed or refused to submit the State Plan Amendment as required by law.

    “Gov. Paul LePage has claimed that he could not submit a State Plan Amendment without funding from the Legislature,” said James Kilbreth, the lead attorney on the lawsuit and a partner at Drummond Woodsum. “Submitting a State Plan Amendment does not require funding from the Legislature. The administration has a responsibility and obligation to take the necessary steps to implement the law the voters passed.”

    The Legislature does not need to appropriate additional funds for Medicaid Expansion, at this time. There is enough funding already budgeted for the program until at least next May or June of 2019 – this is true whether you use the cost estimates from the administration, the non-partisan state fiscal office or a recent independent study factoring in the experience of the 31 other states that have already expanded. 

    Maine has a revenue surplus of $140.5 million to cover any necessary costs for administration and services through SFY 2019.

    Maine Equal Justice Partners is a civil legal aid organization that represents Maine people with low income in areas of economic security, including access to healthcare.

     

     

     

  • Maine’s Growing Hunger - Farm Bill needs to add to SNAP not take away

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    The federal Farm Bill (H.R. 2) that would increase hunger and hardship in Maine and throughout the nation by cutting the effective anti-hunger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.

    Maine’s failed experience with similar policies increased hunger in the state, hurting children. Maine now has the 7th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, dropping from previous year’s ranking even as other states are making progress in alleviating hunger.  

    The Farm Bill is expected to be marked up on Wednesday, April 16, 2018.

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) .

    US Rep. Bruce Poliquin has pushed for including some of the harshest provisions in this bill, such as unrealistic work requirements modeled after Maine’s own failed policies.  

    In a statement last week, Poliquin mischaracterized the real experience of Maine following the institution in 2015 of similar policies under the LePage administration.  Data reveal a starkly different picture of how harmful and ineffective these proposals actually are. 

     MEJP urges Poliquin to take an honest look at Maine’s real experience with these SNAP benefit restrictions. 

    “Maine is absolutely a cautionary tale for the nation because we have already seen that people in our state lost food assistance by the thousands and most didn’t find work,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice. “Instead, they were left with empty dinner plates and no wages. The promise of how these policies will work and story of what really happened to Maine people are vastly different.”

    MEJP recently published a report, which shows that in the one year period following implementation of this policy, only 4 percent more of the 6,866 people who lost their SNAP benefits for failing to meet the work requirements found jobs (30 percent compared with 34 percent). Even this small gain was likely due to the improving economy. At the end of the year, 66 percent of these individuals remained unemployed, but were also without needed food assistance.

    “Beyond the data, the stories we’ve heard from Mainers who have run up against this complex system tell us that more restrictions in SNAP just add more layers of red tape and bureaucracy. We should be helping to make these programs work better for all of us – not adding hoops to jump through for people who have fallen on hard times," said Robyn Merrill, MEJP’s executive director. 

    The Farm Bill is historically a bipartisan piece of legislation, which addresses hunger and supports farms and rural communities, but the radical changes to SNAP in H.R. 2 threaten to derail bipartisan cooperation and prospects for passage.   

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry.”

  • Maine Organizations Urged to Apply for USDA Technology Grants to Expand Access to Health Care and Education in Rural Areas

    Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett has announced that USDA is accepting applications for grants to use broadband e-Connectivity to improve access to health care and educational services in rural communities.

    “Under Secretary Perdue’s leadership, USDA is tackling e-Connectivity as a foundational issue for rural communities because it affects everything from business opportunities to adequate health care access,” Hazlett said. “These grants are one of many tools USDA provides to help ensure that people who live and work in rural areas can use broadband to gain access to essential services and economic opportunities.”  USDA Rural Development State Director Timothy P. Hobbs said.

    “This critical funding can help put the tools in the hands of healthcare and educational institutes so they can make a real difference in the lives of rural Maine citizens who struggle with opioid addiction- through telemedicine equipment for treatment, recovery, and adult education. In addition, the grants can be used to help our schools incorporate STEM curricula into the learning experience, preparing Maine’s youth for bright and promising futures.”

    USDA is awarding grants ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program. Grants can finance projects such as those to provide job training, academic instruction or access to specialized medical care.

    Proposals for projects whose primary purpose is to provide opioid prevention, treatment and recovery will receive 10 priority points when applications are scored. USDA is approaching the opioid misuse crisis with a dedicated urgency because it impacts the quality of life, economic opportunity and rural prosperity.

    USDA also will provide priority points for grants that offer access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses.     

    Grants are available to most state and local governmental entities, federally recognized tribes, nonprofit groups, for-profit businesses or a consortia of these.  

    The application deadline is June 4, 2018. Applications can be submitted via paper or electronically. For details on how to apply, see page 14245 of the April 3 Federal Register.

    A recent example of a Maine project is MaineHealth, in Portland, which received a grant in the amount of $398,692. Rural Development funds were used to install telehealth videoconferencing carts at six rural medical clinics in rural Maine.  This project helps to provide healthcare to those in rural communities and prevent the need for lengthy travel for healthcare consultations.

    For more information, please contact Robert Nadeau, Community Programs Director at (207) 990-9121 or Robert.nadeau@me.usda.gov.

       

  • Legislation to amend Pharmacy Board Rules concerning Narcan Distribution goes to Maine Governor to sign

     By Ramona du Houx

     An Act To Clarify the Prescribing and Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists is headed to Governor LePage’s desk after it passed unanimously in the Senate. Earlier in the week it passed the House with a strong, bipartisan vote of 132-7.

    The bill will allow for people under the age of 21 to have access to the life-saving drug Narcan. The governor has 10 days in which to take action, by either signing, vetoing or letting go into law without his signature.

    “Overdoses can strike anyone at any time and in every opportunity, we should be trying to save every life possible. My colleagues in the legislature are well aware of this,” said Speaker Gideon. “While the hold-up of narcan dispensation has been beyond frustrating, I want to thank them for advancing this piece of legislation. We can no longer ignore the impact of this epidemic, disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment and clearly, we can no longer delay access to life-saving medicine. I urge the governor to take immediate action.”

    In March of 2018, after an unexplained six-month delay, the Board of Pharmacy finally took action on proposed rules related to the original legislation, LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists. However, due to a last-minute request by Governor LePage, the Board amended the proposed rules to raise the age the anti-overdose drug could be dispensed to 21, from 18 as originally written. Gideon immediately began working on legislation to override this action. 

    The Board of Pharmacy’s public comment period on the rule change closes April 15, 2018. A public hearing on the change was held April 5, with many speaking against the over-21 restriction including the Health Equity Alliance, the Maine Medical Association and number of certified drug and rehabilitation experts. In addition, members of the Legislatures Health and Human Services Committee, the Opioid Task Force and Preble Street Resource Center all submitted written comment in favor of lowering the age of dispensation. 

    “This legislation seeks to redress the previous actions, which had no basis in medical research or expert opinion and directly contradicted legislative intent,” said Gideon. “To truly start combatting this epidemic, we need cooperation and leadership from all branches of government, including the Executive Branch. Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on this crisis.”

    BACKGROUND ON PHARMACY DISTRIBUTION OF NALOXONE

    Lawmakers initially approved making naloxone available without a prescription in April 2016 (LD 1547, An Act To Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride). At the request of the Board of Pharmacy, the Legislature clarified the language with an amended bill with the intent that dispensation would begin soon after rulemaking. LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists, was passed by the Legislature in May of 2017.

    The Maine Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously August 3, 2017 to approve rules related to LD 1594. For six months, the rules were stuck in uncertainty due a lack of action from the Executive Branch. Speaker Gideon issued a joint letter with Senator Troy Jackson urging the Board to take action on January 27, 2018. In February 2018, the rules were finally published and a period of public comment began that will close April 15, 2018.

  • H.O.U.S.E. opioid legislation receives initial support in Maine House

    by ramona du Houx

    Rep. Drew Gattine’s emergency legislation responding to the opioid crisis, LD 1711, Resolve, To Save Lives by Establishing a Homeless Opioid Users Service Engagement Pilot Project (H.O.U.S.E.) received initial support in the Maine House of Representatives on April 9, 2018.

    The vote was 94 - 52.

    The legislation will provide treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery for opioid users who are among the most vulnerable in Maine.

    “We have received absolutely appalling and horrific news - in 2017 we lost 418 Mainers to the opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Gattine. “This crisis is only intensifying and it clear that our response is woefully inadequate. While I appreciate the initial support of this legislation from my colleagues and I will be doing everything I can to see it passed, I hope it is only the beginning of serious action.”

    H.O.U.S.E. is a pilot project that provides low-barrier treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery and create stability for 50 opioid users who are among the most vulnerable and unstable in Maine (homeless, uninsured, underinsured, unemployed polysubstance users) and are among the highest utilizers of inpatient hospital services and criminal justice system.

    Homeless individuals will have access to a “medication first” system of low-barrier Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and rapid housing with a creative menu of options to best meet the individual’s need and ensure paths to recovery. 

    “The stress this epidemic is putting on treatment resources, and on law enforcement and on every aspect of our social fabric is crippling,” said Gattine. “We need to increase access to treatment. We need to meet people where they are. To do anything less is a death sentence.”

    The legislation was one of the specific unanimous recommendations of the Opioid Task Force.

    Recommendations put forward by the Task Force include improved youth prevention programs, better prevention of prescription drug diversion, access and awareness of affordable treatment options, expanded specialty courts and pre-diversion programs among more than a dozen other areas of focus.

    The measure, LD 1711, faces further votes in Senate. Gattine, chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House.

  • Talk about Food Safety for Maine Midcoast Farmers

    March 29 from 5:30-7pm

    Knox-Lincoln Extension, 377 Manktown Rd, Waldoboro

    A major reason that farmers commit their lives to producing food is to provide healthy sustenance for their communities. Yet there are a number of ways disease-producing organisms can enter the food stream.

    On Thursday, March 29 from 5:30-7pm, join Jason Lilley at Knox-Lincoln Extension office (377 Manktown Rd, Waldoboro) to learn about on-farm hazards that may lead to food-borne illness as well as the practices that all farmers can implement to minimize risks. Lilley will also discuss the basics of the Food Safety Modernization Act and who must comply, but this program does not meet required FSMA training standards.

    This is the second in a series of free programs for farmers and gardeners presented by Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Midcoast Farmers Alliance.  FMI about future programs and to register: 596-2040, cathrine@knox-lincoln.org, or www.knox-lincoln.org/beginning-farmer.

    Jason Lilley is the Sustainable Agriculture Professional with UMaine Extension in Cumberland County. His work focuses on farm safety as well as soil health, cover cropping, and nutrient management for vegetable production. He is currently involved in a multi-regional project to research the benefits and food safety risks of manure use on organic vegetable farms.

  • Rep. Fay’s K-9 emergency treatment bill signed by Maine's governor

    Rep. Jessica Fay’s bill to ensure working and service dogs have more access to emergency care was signed into law by the governor last week.

    The bill clarifies existing Maine law governing treatment of animals by extending Good Samaritan liability protection to cover trained emergency personnel who treat working and service animals in emergency situations.

    “I’d like to thank Governor LePage for signing this common sense piece of legislation,” said Fay, D- Raymond. “These dogs and the people who work with them are absolutely dedicated to each other, and this law will give these specially trained dogs a better chance to survive a serious injury in the field.”

    The bill, LD 1716, “An Act to Protect Persons Who Provide Assistance to Law Enforcement Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs and Service Dogs” was proposed by law enforcement personnel, and it enjoyed wide bipartisan support.  It will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

    Fay is serving her first term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Casco, part of Poland and part of Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

  • Maine's Rep. Blume’s coastal hazards commission bill due to climate change progresses

    Flooding in Maine at the seacoast town of Lincolnville across RT 1 after the March 2nd storm.

    Maine Rep. Lydia Blume’s bill to create a commission to examine the threats posed by weather and climate-based hazards to Maine’s coastal communities was approved by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee last Friday and will come before the House for an initial vote this week.

    The bill adapts a model successfully used by New Hampshire to set up a commission consisting of a wide array of stakeholders and experts to assess the coastal risks and hazards brought about by the changing climate. The New Hampshire efforts resulted in a detailed recommendation report to help coastal communities prepare for, and deal with, future conditions.

    “The recent storms along the coast, and particularly the storm this last weekend, have highlighted to me the need for this commission,” said Rep. Blume, D-York. “I hope that my colleagues in the Legislature recognize the timeliness and importance of this bill to our crucial coastline.  This is a matter of public safety and protecting our coastal economy.  The more we are able to do now, the more we can save money and lives in the future.”

    The bill, LD 1095, creates a broad-based working group with representatives from municipalities, state agencies, regional planners, legislators and other coastal stakeholders. It will report back to the Legislature with findings detailing the hazards faced by coastal communities and the plans and resources needed to deal with them.

    “The commission is going to be critical to help us be proactive concerning the kinds of changes that are now so evident,” Blume said. “Its work can provide us with the necessary guidance, coordination, direction and best practices to help all our coastal communities prepare for the hazards they face.”

    Blume is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents the coastal part of York.  She serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.

  • Maine Community Forestry Grants Available

    Project Canopy, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s community forestry program, will award $75,000 in grants to local governments, municipalities, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations that support efforts to develop and maintain long-term community forestry programs.

    Funded by the USDA Forest Service, Project Canopy grants are available in two categories: planning and education grants and tree planting and maintenance grants. Typical grants range from $6,000 to $8,000 and require a 50-percent cost-share with cash or in-kind services. Since 2005, Project Canopy has awarded more than $1.5 million in funding for community forestry projects.

    Project Canopy is a program of the Maine Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. It encourages communities to develop project proposals that support sustainable community forestry management, increase awareness of the benefits of trees and forests, and increase the health and livability of communities through sound tree planting and maintenance.

    Project Canopy Director Jan Ames Santerre provided recent examples of community projects that can benefit from Project Canopy grants. Projects of note in 2017 include Auburn ($9,000), Camden ($10,000), and Biddeford ($10,000) for shade tree inventory and management planning for street trees; and Machias ($8,000), Alfred ($8,000), and Standish ($8,000) that allowed those towns to plant trees in downtowns and town parks. “In addition to helping communities with general maintenance planning, these grants allow towns to respond to threats from invasive pests such as the emerald ash borer. They can also support community beautification through street tree planting,” said Santerre.

    Planning and education grants have a maximum award of $10,000, while planting and maintenance grants have a maximum award of $8,000. To be eligible to apply for a 2018 assistance grant, all applicants must attend a grant workshop before submitting an application. The grant workshop will be held on March 13, 2018 via the web. The workshop will cover such topics as grant writing, project development, sustainable community forestry management and grant administration.

    Grant applications are due by 5:00 p.m., Friday, April 6.

    To learn more about the Project Canopy Assistance program and to sign up for a grant workshop, contact Project Canopy Director Jan Ames Santerre at (207) 287-4987.

    More information is available on the web at http://www.projectcanopy.me.

  • Rep. Beebe-Center submits bill to restore child abuse prevention funding

    Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center: “I will not sit idly by while this Administration systematically destroys successful services that protect our kids.”

    By Ramona du Houx

    Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, is submitting legislation to continue funding for the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC) program. 

    Just days after a 10-year-old girl in Stockton Springs was murdered by her parents following months of horrific abuse, Republican Governor Paul LePage moved to end the CPPC program that works to prevent child abuse. 

    “Paul LePage has done a lot of shameful things as governor but attacking a program that protects Maine children from abuse may be one of his worst yet. In the wake of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy’s horrific death following months of abuse, the state should be considering more ways to combat child abuse – not taking steps to end programs that have helped curb the problem," said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.

    For the past 10 years, CPPC has partnered with about 60 groups, including schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, local governments, churches and others to identify and help families at risk of abuse and neglect. The program costs approximately $2.2 million dollars.

    “In the past three months, we have been witness to two tragic deaths of children at the hands of child abusers,” said Beebe-Center. “Why on earth would we be cutting well-respected programs and jeopardizing the lives of even more children? I will not sit idly by while this administration systematically destroys successful services that protect our kids.”

    Throughout the legislative session, the Health and Human Services Committee has been considering a number of measures related to the health and safety of children. Just yesterday, the committee unanimously supported measures regarding fingerprinting requirements for childcare providers and strengthened rules proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services to allow for greater parental oversight. They also opposed several bills that would have weakened safety standards at childcare providers. 

    “There isn’t a single one of us who isn’t highly disturbed by the recent news reports,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Every child deserves to be loved, cherished and kept safe from harm. Anyone in any position of authority needs to ask themselves if they are doing everything possible to maintain the highest standards when it comes to the safety, health and well-being of our kids.”

    The Office of Child and Family Services, which oversees both the CPPC program and the childcare provider regulations, is currently served by Acting-Director Kirsten Capeless. DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton has indicated that that he will not be appointing an official director of the division.

    Beebe-Center presented her proposal, LR 2956 “An Act To Ensure the Continued Provision of Services to Maine Children and Families” to legislative leaders. If a majority of them approve, the full Legislature will have the opportunity to consider the bill.

    Beebe-Center is a member of the Legislature’s Task Force to Address the Opioid Crisis in the State as well as the Committee on State and Local Government. She is serving her second term in the House and represents Rockland and Owls Head.

  • Maine's Rep. Madigan’s bill to allow mental health treatment for teens approved by Legislative Council

    Maine State Capitol photo by Ramona du Houx

     

    A bill sponsored by Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, to keep critical mental health care available to Maine teens was approved on February 27, 2018 by the Legislative Council.  The vote was 9-1 that the bill should be heard. 

    The bill will increase funding for treatment of teens with at-risk behaviors such as aggression and other anti-social behaviors. These services are both intensive and community-based, and are coordinated with families, law enforcement, corrections officials and schools. These treatments are evidence-based practices that have been shown to work across the country.

    “There are agencies that provide these critical services for teens that are leaving the state because they cannot afford to keep working here,” said Rep. Madigan. “I am glad the Legislative Council recognized the need for this.  I am concerned that teenagers get the care they need before a crisis occurs.”

    At this point in the session, any new bills must be determined to address emergencies and other pressing situations. The Legislative Council, which is made up of each party’s leaders in the Maine House and Senate, decides which bills fit the criteria.

     

    Madigan’s bill will be heard by the Legislature in the coming weeks.

     

    Madigan is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents part of Oakland and part of Waterville.  She previously served a term in the Maine Senate. She serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

     

  • The Story of 5 Tikal archaeologists on the town in Guatemala, 1963 - one from Maine

    A Trip to Flores, August 10, 1963

    (Account written in 1963 by William A. Haviland)
     

    Here begins the true narration of the weekend events at Lake Petén. It has been a memorable weekend, and a fine way to celebrate the birth of a son.

    Saturday, Pat, both Eds, Dennis, and I set out for Remate. The occasion was the departure of Pat and Ed, the Bigger. The idea was that they would go on from Flores to Cardenes, hop a barge down the Sarstun to Puerto Barrios, and go from there via bus or train to Guatemala City. The whole trip would be by land from Tikal. Our part was to drive to Remate, where a friend of Tono would meet us and take us by boat to Flores.

    We took no chances. Friday afternoon, Big Ed took the big truck, the chain saw, and four men and went about half way to Remate, sawing up four large trees which were down across the road. The time was well spent, for it speeded our trip considerably.

    Saturday morning was D-day. We put on Tono’s plates to avoid trouble should we run into the Guardia, and got the pickup truck all gassed up and checked out. Then, who should amble over but the local guardia. I had visions of two years ago when the arm of the law demanded rum for permission to let us go to the lake. My fear was misplaced, for he only wanted to warn me that there were several trees down.

    We started at nine on a slightly muddy and slick road, so we really couldn’t pour on the fuel. I was at the helm, with Dennis as co-pilot. The others all sat in back with the spare tire and baggage. The road has really been improved, they say with Alliance for Progress money. Not only are the weeds lower than the windshield, but there are even road signs. Some say “despacio.” Others, at frequent intervals, give the distance to Flores in kilometers. Only trouble is, you have to be driving from Flores to be able to see how far it is to Flores. No matter. In one place is a sign saying “brecha,” where a brecha crosses the road. But really, the road is fine. The Alliance for Progress is a great thing; I think all of three vehicles have used the road since it was re-opened. But, on with the tale.

    We hadn’t gone but ten minutes past where Ed had turned around the day before, when we came to a fallen tree. Just a short distance past a sign saying “trabajos FYDEP.” We hauled out the axe and machetes and went to work, but it was hard going. It was a hell of a tree, and the task was no simpler for the fact that the axe head kept flying off the handle, as if it was Guatemala’s answer to orbital flight. Max (the project mechanic) fixed us up in good shape, all right. But we persevered, and on we went. Ten minutes later, what do we find? Another tree. This one a zapote, and hard as nails.

    Well, we were lucky. The axe crew worked, on one end, while Dennis and I worked on a big root with machetes. The axe was now rapidly going to pieces. The head would fly off, so we tried cutting a wedge. This succeeded only in splitting hell out of the handle, not exactly our intention. But again, we persevered. We got it cut to a point where we could hook the winch on and drag it out of the road. As it turned out, this was the last tree we had to deal with, which was a good thing considering the condition of the axe. But a new horror awaited us. We were churning our way through a muddy bajo when pow! A blowout in the left front tire. I tried to run on through, but I couldn’t hold it and had to stop. We surveyed the situation; not only was the tire flat, but somewhere along the way we had lost a lug nut.

    There was only one solution obviously: put on the spare. Surprisingly enough, we had one along and also a jack and wrench. Big Ed grabbed the jack, and then things went from bad to worse. It was a hydraulic jack, and the little pump came apart. Oil started gushing out like Old Faithful. Like the Dutch boy at the dike, Ed stuck his finger over the hole and stemmed the flow. He tried putting it together, but no luck. I tried; same result. Then Dennis tried and, miracle of miracles, it went together. We ripped out a bench, put the jack on it, and by a combination of jacking and digging the wheel out, we got the spare on.

    After this, things started looking up. We went through some wicked bajo, sometimes almost floating rather than driving. But the trusty truck took it all in stride and went on through. Of course, a rainstorm would really have loused things up, but Lady Luck was now smiling on us. Big clods of dirt full of clay gathered on the wheels, to be flung in the air and dropped where the windshield would be, if we had one. They resembled clods of a well-known organic substance. We made Remate by 11:30, to find Julio waiting for us with his outboard. We had a truly delightful trip down the lake to Flores. It was very much like coming to another world, and not unlike a trip down the reach at Deer Isle. Only the water wasn’t salty, and instead of sea gulls, we had millions of butterflies all over the place.

    The boat trip lasted 45 minutes to an hour. In the meantime, we acquired wonderful sun tans. Or rather, sun burns. Flores itself is like a world apart, and is utterly fascinating. And, I can now claim to have been in the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the western hemisphere.

    We landed and Julio, our guide, took us ashore. The landing itself was lots of laughs, for we simply ran full tilt up to the shore till bam! We ran aground. Then he took us into a back yard, through a kitchen and past several sleeping quarters, and up some stairs. We found ourselves then in the local drugstore, behind the counter. We later learned that the pharmacist was a Tulane graduate. From here we emerged on the streets of Flores. These are wide avenues, although there are no cars. Grass grows between the cobbles, and chickens wander about freely. Those who are enterprising weed the streets in front of their houses, but others don’t, so that the streets present a sort of checker-board pattern. The architecture is fascinating; great houses with balconies, often with big black Sopilotes roosting on the roof. It has an other-worldly charm. The whole island is built up right to the water’s edge. Some 2000 people live there, in a space roughly 500 meters by 250 meters. Padre Avendano, before the conquest of the Itza, gives a similar population estimate. The father of Julio explained the attractions. “No mosquitoes, no snakes”. When Julio suggested lunch, we asked if the place was close. His reply: “In Flores everything is close.”

    We were settled in a house all to ourselves, at Q. 1.00 a head, per night. Then we had a delicious meal at about the same price, while some kids across the street serenaded us with a tiny marimba and drums. Midway through this luncheon concert, a cloudburst came, so they all pulled a towel over themselves.

    After lunch, we caught a dugout canoe and went to Tayasal. This was a very large site; extensive and with high mounds. There is a beautiful view of Flores from one pyramid, with all the water traffic in dugout canoes around it. We also saw the site of Tono’s new luxury hotel, which is quite nice.

    From Tayasal we went to Santa Siena, and walked two kilometers to Jobitsinaj, the cave. This we explored extensively, and it is beautiful. There are huge domed chambers, with cascades of stalactites, as well as some columns. After entering, there is a whole series of large chambers. From these, there is a hard-to-find crawlway leading to another whole series of huge chambers. I hope someday to return here, with adequate lights and a camera. I have never seen such a beautiful cave. As it was, the four of us had only an electric lantern and one flashlight. Pat and Julio sat for two hours at the mouth of the cave.

    After all this activity, we returned to Flores, and had another look around. The central plaza is on the highest point of land, and here are located the church, city hail, jail, and governor’s mansion. The church looks from a distance as if it was bombed out, but when you enter it has the usual candles and ornamentation in the front. Part of the church, I gather, dates from the colonial period. There are also three Maya stelae, two of which are built into a wall of the plaza. There is also a basket ball court, and the whole plaza is lit at night by mercury vapor lights. This is of interest, for through the rest of Flores are several street lights, consisting of bulbs dangling from poles by wires. You can tell they are lit after dark, because if you look up, you can see them glowing very feebly.

    Supper was excellent, and we were again entertained by some kids. This time, they were watching us while we ate, through a window. They had apparently been exposed to American movies, for at one point they started chanting, in English, “goodnight, my love.” Kids all over town were most interested in us gringos, and followed us around. When we moved into our house, about a dozen kids stood in the doorway staring at us.

    After supper, we returned to our house, to find the owner there. He showed us the wonders of modern electricity. You flipped a switch, and a bare bulb in the ceiling gave a dim glow.

    Next on the agenda, we all trooped down to the barber and got haircuts, at 75 cents a throw. It was most amusing to see five previously shaggy people closely cropped. That barber really worked for his money.

    By this time we were all quite tired, but we were informed that a dance was in progress in Santa Elena. Well, this we had to see, so we all piled in a dugout and went over. We didn’t stay long, but had a few chuckles. The music was by marimbas, an outfit called Ecos del ltza. They had two marimbas, one three-man and one four-man. No one appeared to take notice of the four bearded gringos (Little Ed was unable to raise a beard), until Dennis stepped off a culvert and lost his balance. With this, a hundred women screamed.

    With this, we returned to Flores, in the company of a boatman who was a laugh. He spoke slowly, and told one person that he thought it would be much better to sit down. Very slowly be said it, as if speaking was a real effort. Then, silence till we got to Flares. Then, again very slowly, deliberately, “muy bien, hovennes.” As if we had had anything to do with the success of the trip over!

    Sunday dawned, bright and clear. And the chief event of the morning concerns Julio’s father, who speaks excellent English. We ran into him the night before at the barber’s, and he spoke of all the Maya sites he had seen. He knew Morley, who had paid him $25.00 for every new ruin he led him to. He spoke also of a big stone wheel he had found at lxlu, and offered it to us for the Tikal museum. “Oh, it only weighs 100 pounds, the boat will take it easily.” This we were dubious about, since on the trip to the island the gunwales had almost been awash. But we agreed to go look at it.

    Early in the morning, we went to have a look. I guess it is a mill stone of the colonial era, not an ancient Maya wheel as our host insisted. It was heavy, at least 200 pounds worth. Still dubious, we put a pole through the hole, and four of us paraded through the streets of Flores to the landing place. We must have been quite a sight. Our host reassured us all the while: “Sure, boys, the boat will take it. Only last week there were twenty people in that boat. Three of them drowned.”

    We made it to the water’s edge, all right, and there was Julio who took one look and said no. So, there the wheel was left.

    After this fiasco, we said our goodbyes to Pat and Big Ed, climbed aboard Julio’s boat, and off we went to Remate. Little Ed was determined to sit in the bow seat, so before anyone else got aboard he hopped in and appropriated it. Everyone else had to climb around him. Dennis and I sat amidships. As it turned out, there was a breeze and the lake was quite choppy. The boat bounced, and of course the worst spot in the boat was the bow seat Dennis and I sat on our calf muscles, which padded us, and we were quite comfortable. But poor Ed. He is skinny and boney anyway, and he bounced around like a cork. Oh, how he bounced. He tried perching on his hands. No good. He tried squatting. No good. He tried turning around. He tried everything, except sitting on his calf muscles, and all to no avail. He kept bouncing around like a marble in a most amusing manner.

    We made Remate in good time, got the truck, and went up the road a way to have a swim. We lolled in the water for about an hour of sheer bliss. Dennis used his pants to make water wings to float on. I went in clothes and all, but these I shed. There was a sweet young thing not far away, who was taking a bath, and didn’t seem the least concerned with our presence.

    The time came all too soon to climb back into the truck and be off. I was a bit worried about the lack of a spare tire, but we got back to Tikal in jig time with no mishaps. Fortunately, it had not rained at all, so the bajos were no worse than before. One feature of the return trip was that every time we hit a bajo, the hood would fly up. Naturally, I wasn’t about to stop in the mud. I leaned out of the cab so I could see where I was going, and when we hit solid ground, Dennis would hop out and bang the hood down again.

    We arrived at Tikal at 11:30, so we must have made very good time. As we came in, the men and kids sitting around gave us a rousing- cheer, and we learned later that Max had been concerned and suggested a rescue party. Perhaps the result of guilt feelings over that horrible axe?

  • Maine Rally Demands Medicaid Expansion

    The Healthcare Rally at the Maine State Capitol demanding that the voters get what they voted for in a referendum that would expand the ACA Medicaid expansion to Maine. courtesy photo

    Voters Send Message to Maine Governor, Legislators: ‘We Are Watching’

    Scores of Mainers turned out for a rally before Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State Address to show their support for Medicaid expansion, which would provide health care to more than 70,000 people in the state. 

    “We’re here tonight to say to the governor and lawmakers: 70,000 of our friends, family members and neighbors are on track to obtain live-saving access to health care thanks to the work of Mainers who made history by expanding Medicaid at the ballot box,” said Lynnea Hawkins of Lewiston, a member of the Mainers for Health Care Leadership team. “We’re here to celebrate that victory and to ask lawmakers and the governor to implement Medicaid expansion without delay. We haven’t gone anywhere since Election Day, and we are watching.”

    Since enactment, LePage, with support from some Republicans in the Legislature, has dragging his feet on Medicaid expansion, despite last year’s ballot initiative, which passed with the support of 59 percent of Maine voters.

    “Medicaid expansion is the law. Maine people have spoken, and the obligation under the law is clear,” said Robyn Merrill, the co-chair of Mainers for Health Care and the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners. “The new law requires that people begin to receive health care coverage on July 2, 2018. The LePage administration must follow the law. Voters sent a strong message. They want more than 70,000 Mainers to receive health coverage through Medicaid expansion. Mainers want more affordable health care, not less. They have waited long enough.”

    Members of Mainers for Health Care, including people who will be impacted by Medicaid expansion, are available for interviews in response to the governor’s State of the State Address, in which he is expected to discuss the new law.

     

  • Great way of engaging students with I Know ME addition to the state's Park Passport Program

    photos and article by Ramona du Houx

    Eleven seventh graders from Mount View Middle School in Thorndike, Maine visited the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) to begin their quest to visit all Maine State Parks in 2018 as part of the Maine State Park Passport Program in partnership with The Game Loft in Belfast.

    "The I Know ME program focuses on learning about the state and learning about oneself," said The Game Loft co-Director Ray Estabrook. "We believe that if you know who you are and you know where you are from, you can find where you are going. The I Know ME program has received generous funding from the Emmanuel and Pauline Lerner Foundation."


    The students plan to visit all Maine State Parks as part of the new "I Know ME" program, which augments the original program started in 2010.

    The Park Passport Program challenges participants to visit all 48 Maine State parks and Historic Sites, have a passport book stamped and earn prizes. It has been one of the most successful promotions that the DACF's Bureau of Parks and Lands has initiated. Since the program's inception families, individuals, schools and tourists have contributed to over 200,000 park passports in circulation.

    "Maine residents have an amazing resource in our state park system," said The Game Loft co-Director Patricia Estabrook. "As people who have visited all 48 state parks we believe that these treasures teach us about our heritage and enrich our lives. Everyone should consider participating in the state park passport program."

    The booklet is a great resource to learn about Maine's state parks and historic sites. Using the passport is fun and easy. Visit any Maine state park or historic site from May 15 through September. Find the brown passport station and unlock the padlock using the secret code (The combination is the park's establishment date, you can find it on the passport page). Stamp your passport. 

    Passport holders receive an award for every 8 stamps they collect. The more stamps collected, the better the award. The passport program was expanded to include 8 geocache's. There is one geocache at a state park in each of the 8 tourism regions. Passports can be obtained for $1 at all Maine State Parks.

    Governor John Baldacci was on hand in May of 2010 to inaugurate the program envisioned by Eliza Townsend his Commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation (DOC). Baldacci was the first one to get his passport stamped at Range Parks State Park in Poland.

    “It’s a wonderful idea – good for you, good for the economy and good for the state,” said Governor Baldacci at Range Park in 2010. “I often tell people, we don’t appreciate enough the hidden jewels we have in our state. Right in our backyards, we have the Disneyland of natural resources.”

    It’s those backyard parks that have built found memories across the state that last a lifetime.

    “My grandparents, parents and brothers and sisters would go to, what used to be the Dorothia Dix Park, outside of Bangor,” said the Governor at the park. “We’d have a picnic and then play baseball. There was a brick wall that we pretended was the center field wall at Fenway. If we hit a ball over the wall we were homerun kings. Today, Maine has hit a homerun with this program.”

    Passport Program details are available at: http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/discover_history_explore_nature/activities/passport_program.shtml


    The Game Loft is an award winning 4-H out of school time program that for the past 20 years has been serving the educational, emotional, and social needs of youth in Waldo County. The Game Loft is a free program open to all youth, 50 weeks a year, between the ages of 6-18 who are in school or are home-schooled.

  • Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to partner on U.S. employee healthcare


    Goal is to improve U.S. employee satisfaction while reducing overall costs

    Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A, BRK.B) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) announced today that they are partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs. The three companies, which bring their scale and complementary expertise to this long-term effort, will pursue this objective through an independent company that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints. The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.

    Tackling the enormous challenges of healthcare and harnessing its full benefits are among the greatest issues facing society today. By bringing together three of the world’s leading organizations into this new and innovative construct, the group hopes to draw on its combined capabilities and resources to take a fresh approach to these critical matters.

    “The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy. Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes,” said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett.

    “The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

    “Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. “The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” he added.

    The effort announced today is in its early planning stages, with the initial formation of the company jointly spearheaded by Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a Managing Director of JPMorgan Chase; and Beth Galetti, a Senior Vice President at Amazon. The longer-term management team, headquarters location and key operational details will be communicated in due course.

    About Amazon

    Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, and Alexa are some of the products and services pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit www.amazon.com/about and follow @AmazonNews.

    Amazon.com, Inc.
    Media Hotline
    Amazon-pr@amazon.com
    www.amazon.com/pr

    About Berkshire

    Berkshire Hathaway and its subsidiaries engage in diverse business activities including insurance and reinsurance, utilities and energy, freight rail transportation, finance, manufacturing, retailing and services. Common stock of the company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, trading symbols BRK.A and BRK.B.

    About JPMorgan Chase & Co.

    JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.5 trillion and operations worldwide. The Firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and small businesses, commercial banking, financial transaction processing, and asset management. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, JPMorgan Chase serves millions of customers in the United States and many of the world's most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients under its J.P. Morgan and Chase brands. Information about JPMorgan Chase is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.

  • Sen. Bellows declares Medicaid expansion will happen in Maine


    Editorial by Senator Shenna Bellows, from Manchester
     
    In reflecting upon my first year in the Maine Senate, I am proud of what we were able to accomplish amid significant challenges. But I know we still have a lot of work left to do.
     
    Last year, my top resolution to my constituents was property tax relief. For too many Mainers, rising property taxes pose a real threat to their way of life. I will never forget some of the seniors I’ve met who feared losing the homes they have lived in for a lifetime. And they are not alone.
     
    Fortunately, Senate Democrats are on their side. When the Governor, deaf to constituent concerns about rising property taxes, sought to eliminate the Homestead Property Tax Exemption for anyone under the age of 65, Senate Democrats fought back. When the Republicans sought to rollback recent raises to the exemption, Senate Democrats fought back. And we won. We successfully blocked the Governor from eliminating the Homestead Property Tax Exemption and implemented a 33 percent raise to the exemption to $20,000 for every Maine household.
     
    This is good work. But it is just a start. We ought to be problem solving in Augusta, not pitting groups against each other. We must work together in a bipartisan way to get things done.
     
    My top resolution for 2018 is to fight to expand healthcare for Mainers by implementing Medicaid expansion. Last November, voters sent a strong message to leaders in Augusta: Mainers want more access to health care not less. And I agree.
     
    Without health insurance, you cannot afford a doctor when you are sick and risk getting much worse. If you are sick, you cannot go to work, which is both bad for businesses and tough on your wallet. Or, you go to work and risk spreading illness and disease. It is a no-win situation.
     
    Maine lawmakers have passed Medicaid expansion five times only to meet the Governor’s veto pen on every occasion. Now, Maine people have spoken. The Legislature and the Governor have a responsibility to uphold the will of the voters. Senate Democrats resolve here and now that we will do everything in our power to implement Medicaid expansion so more than 70,000 Mainers can get the healthcare coverage they deserve.
     
    I have a few other resolutions for the upcoming legislative session as well. We must do more – in a bipartisan way – to confront the opioid crisis that is killing so many Mainers. I have a bill to regulate and expand access to recovery houses, which is one small part of the solution for families trying to help loved ones get treatment.  
     
    I’m also interested in how we expand access to the Internet to ensure that small businesses in our rural communities can start up and thrive. I have three bills that touch on Internet access and privacy including a bill to restore net neutrality that I will work to move forward this session.
     
    I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in 2018 to finish what we started and make Maine work for more Maine families, seniors and small businesses. I resolve – we will fight hard for you.
     
  • Be Careful with Dangerously Low Temperatures in Maine

    12/29/2017 01:17 PM EST

    As sub-zero temperatures continue across the State, MEMA urges Mainers to use extreme caution to avoid hypothermia or even death. 

    The National Weather Service reports that very cold air will continue across the region this weekend and through at least the middle of next week with most locations unlikely to get above the freezing mark for the foreseeable future. 

    MEMA offers the following tips to help Mainers stay safe during the dangerously cold weather:

    • To Prevent Hypothermia, dress in layers, wear a warm hat - 30 percent of heat loss is through the head, wear a scarf and gloves.
    • Infants should be in a room in which the temperature is 61-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Drink plenty of fluids and warm/hot drinks.
    • Eat regular balanced meals to give you energy - good nutrition is important.
    • Keep active when it's cold, but not to the point where you're sweating. Keep dry and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
    • Cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, since all three cause heat loss.
    • Try to keep one room in the house warm.
    • Ask your doctor if you are on any medications that affect your ability to maintain a steady body temperature (such as neuroleptic medications and sedative hypnotics).

    Symptoms of hypothermia include decreased consciousness, sleepiness, confusion, and/or disorientation; shivering, pale or blue skin, numbness, poor coordination, slurred speech; In severe hypothermia, shivering decreases or goes away, and the person becomes unconscious and has very shallow breaths.

    Winter Driving Tips and Holiday Travel:

    If you plan to travel over the holiday weekend, be sure to watch the weather reports and plan accordingly. 

    Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area such as a garage to avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Make sure tires are properly inflated and in good condition. Check windshield wiper fluid, ensure the vehicle is clear of all ice and snow and never mix radial tires with other types of tires. Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid the gas line freezing up or running out of gas and becoming stranded. Bring a fully-charged cell phone and program roadside assistance numbers. 

    If you become stranded in your vehicle, stay with the vehicle and tie a brightly-colored cloth to the antenna or use other distress signal. Run the engine and heater just long enough to remove chill to conserve gas.

    Update the emergency kits in your vehicles with the items below and be sure to let someone know when and where you will be traveling and when you expect to arrive at your destination.

    • A shovel 
    • Windshield scraper and small broom 
    • Flashlight 
    • Battery powered radio 
    • Extra batteries 
    • Water 
    • Snack food 
    • Matches 
    • Extra hats, socks and mittens 
    • First aid kit with pocket knife Necessary medications 
    • Blanket(s) 
    • Tow chain or rope 
    • Road salt and sand 
    • Booster cables 
    • Emergency flares 
    • Fluorescent distress flag 

    For additional preparedness, shelter and safety information, please visit MainePrepares.com, or visit MEMA on Facebook or Twitter. Shelter information is also available by calling 2-1-1 or contacting your local town office, fire or police department.
  • Democrats in Maine Recommit to Implementing Medicaid Expansion despite Gov. LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) met on December 13, 2017 to begin its review of the cost of implementing Medicaid expansion passed by the voters in November. Maine is the first state in the nation to expand access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act via ballot initiative. The committee also reviewed the latest revenue projection forecast for the state.  

    But Governor LePage issued a statement declaring how the implementation would take place, which is not the normal procedure and could endanger equal opportunity to healthcare.

    The LePage Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are required by law to begin the process of expanding Medicaid eligibility to Mainers earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit — roughly $17,000 annually.

    The law includes strict deadlines for DHHS to act. However, despite an invitation from AFA committee co-chairs Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) to the Department, LePage declined to send representatives from his administration the meeting.

    “Thousands of Mainers cannot afford to wait any longer for the health care they need to be and stay well,” said Rep. Gattine. “And what we did today was to start the critical work necessary to make this law a reality. While I’m disappointed that Governor LePage chose not to send a representative, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Medicaid expansion is now the law of the land and our committee will continue to gather the facts, do our work and appropriate funds when they are necessary.”

    The AFA committee is tasked with determining the state share of the cost of expansion and appropriating funding. Projections by the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR) indicate expansion will inject more than $525 million of federal funding into the state economy every year. OFPR estimated the state’s share of expansion costs at $54.5 million once the federal share drops from 93.5 percent in the first year to 90 percent in 2021. There is no accurate cost projection for the current biennium due to a number of unanswered questions from the DHHS.  

    However, it was made clear to the committee that the state would not need an additional appropriation to fund the state share until May of 2019. In order to determine whether the state will need to make any expansion-related appropriations during the current budget cycle, the committee asked further questions of OFPR and DHHS about the timeline for covering newly eligible Mainers, the additional staffing needs at DHHS to process applications, and projected savings.

    “Today, we began the work necessary to fulfill the voters’ mandate and expand healthcare coverage to 80,000 Mainers,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the lead Senate Democrat on the AFA Committee. “The law states that by July 2018, the state is required to begin offering Medicaid coverage to those newly eligible Mainers, so there’s a lot to be done. I look forward to the work, but am disappointed that no one from Gov. LePage’s administration accepted our invitation to participate in the work today. Implementation of this law is his responsibility and obligation as the chief executive of our state, and we expect him to fulfill it.”

  • Collins support of the Senate tax bill is a betrayal of veterans

    December 11, 2017

    Editorial by Alex Luck, who served in the U.S. Army’s infantry, both as a noncommissioned and commissioned officers, from 1967 to 1990. He now resides in Southwest Harbor.

    As a Mainer, I’ve always appreciated Sen. Susan Collins’ independent streak and willingness to listen to other viewpoints. I hope she’s listening now. As a veteran, it pains me to see just how badly the Republican tax bill that the Senate just passed will hurt my fellow veterans.

    What’s worse, I’m heartbroken to see Collins vote for this bill that punishes veterans and threatens millions of families’ health and well-being by dismantling a key part of the Affordable Care Act. I’d expect such cruelty from the far-right fringe.

    I’m shocked to see Collins go along with it.

    First, we need to examine just how badly this tax package hurts veterans. By 2027, the Senate bill raises taxes on the majority of families earning less than $75,000 per year. The median income for a veteran is just half that, meaning the bill will punish many veterans’ families with a higher tax burden.

    With more than 127,000 veterans in Maine, that’s a high cost. Billionaires, however, see a huge windfall, paid for by the higher taxes on veterans and other American families. And what do our children inherit? A deficit that is estimated to explode by another $1.4 trillion.

    Provisions in the House version of the bill that may make their way into the final bill include the elimination of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which encourages businesses to hire veterans. Hundreds of thousands of veterans have found work because of this tax credit, and repealing them will result in fewer veterans finding jobs.

    The House bill would also eliminate the Disabled Access Tax Credit, a credit that helps small businesses comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensures that the nearly 32,000 disabled veterans in Maine can live in a safe, inclusive and accessible environment.

    But perhaps nothing is more odious than the bill’s repeal of a key part of the Affordable Care Act, the individual mandate — a move that would explode the number of uninsured by 13 million people by 2025 and increase health insurance premiums by 10 percent, or about $2,300 per family in Maine. Hundreds of thousands of veterans gained insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Gutting the Affordable Care Act would take an extremely heavy toll on veterans in the Pine Tree State.

    Collins is indicating that she would be OK with that if two other pieces of legislation, the Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson bills, are passed along with the tax bill. But inclusion of these plans would not mitigate the damage caused by gutting the Affordable Care Act in this budget bill.

    Collins-Nelson would add funds to stabilize markets for the next two years, to stem the damage caused by Trump’s previous sabotage of the program. In short, it would not do anything beyond 2019. And while it could help an estimated 1 million people gain insurance, that hardly makes a dent in the 13 million who will become uninsured by 2027 because of the repeal of the individual mandate in the tax bill.

    And while Collins points to the $10 billion that her plan spends to stabilize the Affordable Care Act market over the next two years, it’s next to nothing when you consider that repealing the individual mandate would reduce federal health care spending by $320 billion.

    So what are we left with?

    Collins already voted yes on a bill that pummels veterans to pay for billionaire tax cuts. On top of it, she’s willing to consign millions of Americans to the ranks of the uninsured, including thousands upon thousands of veterans, as part of that same bill.

    I have to believe Collins is under great pressure from President Donald Trump and doesn’t want to become a target of his ire. I understand that, and I know Trump can be a bully. But, I’m hopeful that if the bill comes back to the Senate, the Collins I know will stand up to that bullying and say, “No, Mr. President, I will not vote for this bill that hurts Maine’s veterans so badly.”

    Collins, please don’t let us down. Don’t vote for this anti-veteran, anti-Maine tax scam. She is better than that.

  • Attorney General Janet Mills joins lawsuit against Trump EPA for failing to meet Clean Air Act requirements

    12/07/2017

    By Ramona du Houx Attorney General Janet Mills has joined 14 attorneys general in suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to meet Clean Air Act deadlines.
    According to the American Lung Association there are nearly 25,000 children and 120,000 adults in Maine with asthma. If we don't meet Clean Air standards that number will surely rise, along with other deseases and health concerns.

    "The EPA's failure to act is putting the health of thousands of Maine children and seniors at risk," said Attorney General Mills. "I will continue to hold the EPA's feet to the fire to protect Maine people from the effects of pollution."

    In October 2015, the EPA revised and strengthened the national air quality standards for smog. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to designate areas of the country that are in "attainment" or "non-attainment" with these public health and welfare standards. In this case the EPA was required to issue these designations by October 1, 2017. 

    In June, the EPA announced it would delay making the required designations. In August, Attorney General Mills and other attorneys general sued the EPA for illegally delaying the designations that show what areas of the country are meeting the Clean Air Act standards and which are not. The day after the lawsuit was filed the EPA announced they would not delay making the designations 

    The EPA's own studies demonstrate that pollution from states upwind of Maine contributes substantially to the state's unhealthy ozone levels. The designation of areas with unhealthy levels of pollution plays a key role under the Clean Air Act in triggering requirements for state-specific plans and deadlines to reduce pollution in the designated areas. Maine has been meeting these standards for over a decade. If the states upwind of Maine are not required to meet pollution standards, air quality in Maine could decline. 

    Implementing the 2015 updated smog standards will improve public health for children, older adults, and people of all ages who have lung diseases like asthma, and people who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers. 

    In fact, the EPA conservatively estimated that meeting the smog standards would result in net annual public health savings of up to $4.5 billion starting in 2025 (not including California), while also preventing approximately:

    · 316 to 660 premature deaths;

    · 230,000 asthma attacks in children;

    · 160,000 missed school days;

    · 28,000 missed work days;

    · 630 asthma-related emergency room visits; and

    · 340 cases of acute bronchitis in children. Smog forms when nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide emitted from power plants, motor vehicles, factories, refineries, and other sources react under suitable conditions. Because these reactions occur in the atmosphere, smog can form far from where its precursor gases are emitted and, once formed, smog can travel far distances. Despite enacting stringent in-state controls on sources of these pollutants, many states are not able to meet federal health-based air quality standards for smog. 
  • Defying Collins’ So-Called Deal, Speaker Paul Ryan Declares Congressional Republicans Will Cut Medicare

    By Ramona du Houx

    Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan and other Congressional members appear to be looking to throw into doubt another one of the agreements Senator Susan Collins struck in exchange for her vote on tax reform.

    In a radio appearance yesterday, Speaker Ryan said that Congressional Republicans next year will be looking to cut Medicare and Medicaid in order to reign in the deficit - a move that immediately follows Republicans ramming through a massive tax cut for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations that is projected to increase the deficit by more than $1 trillion. 

    “We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show"... Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.” 

    Speaker Ryan’s statement flies directly in the face of the spirit of an agreement that Senator Susan Collins reached with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which he stated that the tax bill would not lead to triggered cuts in Medicare.

    “I have a personal commitment that that will not occur and that has been discussed with Paul Ryan on the House side,” Collins told reporters, according to a report in The Hill. “If it were to occur, I wouldn’t even be considering voting for this bill.”

    While Collins’ agreement focused on Medicare cuts triggered under a Congressional “pay-as-you-go” rule, it’s clear that Republicans are intent upon using the ballooning deficit they are creating through their tax scam as an excuse to slash Medicare – a move Senator Collins should be deeply concerned about.

    “You also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn't the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries,” said US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida  last week.

    “We're spending ourselves into bankruptcy,” said US Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “Now, let's just be honest about it: We're in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don't help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don't help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.”

    “Senator Collins never should have voted for this damaging, corporation-enriching tax scam in the first place. Now Republicans are making it crystal clear they intend to use the deficit they are creating as justification to cut programs that seniors, disabled, and low-income Mainers rely on  making their bad bill even worse for hardworking Maine families," said Maine Democratic Party Head, Phil Bartlett.

    "It's time for Senator Collins to stand up for the people she represents and say enough is enough. The stakes are simply too high for Senator Collins to continue defending a tax bill that’s going to mostly benefit the wealthy while hurting so many people across our state. We urge her to withdraw her support for this bill."

    Speaker Ryan’s statement comes as he and other House Republicans have thrown cold water on the other deals Senator Collins has reached with Senator McConnell, including one to pass stabilization and reinsurance bills that she has questionably claimed would mitigate the impact of the repeal of the individual mandate.

    • According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 23 percent of the state's population rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health insurance.
    • Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older and for certain younger people with disabilities.
    • Medicaid provides health and long-term care coverage to low-income pregnant women, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities in the United States.
    • Medicaid is also a major source of funding for hospitals, community health centers, physicians, and nursing homes.

    Looks like Collins' deal is nothing but false promises from Congressional leaders. Urge her to vote against the bill and call her office.

  • Maine State Opioid Task Force Completes Work

    Pending recommendations to be presented to full Legislature in early December 

    by Ramona du Houx

    Maine’s Task Force to Address the Opioid Crisis in the State concluded its work Tuesday, preparing to deliver its recommendations for combating the drug crisis by December 6, 2017 to the full Legislature for action.

    “Every day we hesitate literally means the death of another Mainer,” said House chair of the Task Force Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell. “From infants born drug-affected to jail cells filled with our neighbors in need of treatment, the statewide epidemic requires that we take action.  Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on increasing prevention efforts, expanding access to effective, affordable treatment, and addressing the underlying poverty and inequality that have delivered this crisis.”

    The objective of the 19-member Task Force is for lawmakers and community experts to report back to the Legislature any recommendations, including legislation, that would assist with statewide efforts to combat the opioid crisis. 

    The Task Force will be compiling its recommendations, which have not yet been released, for legislation in the areas of law enforcement, prevention and harm reduction, and treatment and recovery. As a Legislative Task Force, any recommendations in the form of legislation are required to be referred to committees for additional action prior to appearing before the House and Senate. 

    “The legislature has the opportunity to act decisively to combat this emergency.  We cannot ignore its impact or disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment.  Expecting people to pull themselves up by their boot straps just isn’t working.  This is a complex problem requiring broad-based solutions,” added Rep. McCreight. “It’s time to recognize the extreme cost of this crisis, which can be measured in lives lost, families torn apart, a workforce gutted and an economy held back. It’s time to take action to help our neighbors get the help they need.”

    In a revised interim report delivered May 15, 2017, the Task Force identified the current state of the drug crisis in Maine and analyzed treatment options, law enforcement challenges and other topics directly related to the opiate epidemic.

    According to the Maine Attorney General’s office, 185 Mainers died of a drug overdose in the first six months of this year. In 2016, the total number of deaths was 376.

    McCreight, a member of the Legislature’s Judiciary and Health and Human Services Committees, is serving her second term in the Maine House. She represents Harpswell, West Bath and part of Brunswick.

     

  • Attorney General Mills joins multistate court brief opposing roll back of contraception coverage mandate

    Attorney General Janet Mills (photo left) joined a coalition of attorneys general in an amicus brief opposing the Trump Administration's roll back of the ACA contraception requirement.

    The amicus brief, filed with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, supports the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's lawsuit to stop the federal government from enforcing a new rule that would authorize virtually any employer with an objection to contraception to prevent employees and employees' dependents from having health insurance coverage for contraceptive services. 

    "This Trump administration's proposal is an attack on the health of women throughout our country," said Attorney General Mills. "It is an attack on the right to privacy to allow employers to interfere in the most personal decisions of their employees' lives." Since the ACA was enacted in 2010, most employers who provide health insurance coverage to their employees have been required to include coverage for contraception, at no cost to the employee. As a result of the ACA, more than 55 million women in the United States, including 253,000 women in Maine, have access to contraception without a co-pay, saving an average of $255 per year for oral pill contraceptives.

    For millions of women the ACA contraception coverage rule has reduced healthcare costs, helped address medical conditions and allowed them to make their own decisions about whether to have children. Before the contraception coverage rule, birth control accounted for 30-44% of a woman's out-of-pocket healthcare costs. 

    In the brief, the attorneys general argue that the new rule is unconstitutional because it allows the federal government to endorse certain religious or moral beliefs over a woman's right to make choices about her own health care.

    The attorneys general also argue that the proposed rule denies equal protection under the law by denying critical benefits to women, while leaving coverage for men unchanged. Additionally, they argue that the Trump administration is taking away the right to contraceptive coverage - a right that millions of women rely on - in violation of the ACA itself, and without an opportunity for public comment and without following legal procedures.

  • Maine Votes ‘YES’ to Expand Medicaid, Provide Health Coverage to More than 70,000 People

    By Ramona du Houx

     On November 7, 2017 the people of Maine voted to expand access to Medicaid to more than 70,000 Mainers, including working moms, small business owners, people with disabilities, veterans and older Mainers, by supporting Question 2 on the statewide ballot.

     “Maine voters have made it clear: They want more people to have access to health care,” said Robyn Merrill, co-chair of Mainers for Health Care!, the coalition that ran the Yes on 2 campaign. “Medicaid expansion will provide health care coverage to more than 70,000 Mainers and bring more than $500 million a year in new funding into the state, helping our hospitals and creating an estimated 6,000 jobs. Tonight is a great night for the people of Maine and our economy.”  

    Maine is the first state in the nation to expand the ACA with a people's referendum.

    Maine's Speaker of the House Sara Gideon said, “One of the most critical pieces of this expansion is the increased access to treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction. For too long, we’ve left federal dollars on the table and Maine families have paid the price. It is now the responsibility and the duty of the governor and the legislature to fully and faithfully implement this law.”

    Maine is one of 19 states whose Republican governors or legislatures have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Other holdouts like Utah and Idaho are closely watching the initiative, as newly formed committees in both those states are working to get a Medicaid expansion question on next year’s ballot. The outcome may offer clues about the salience of the issue in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

    More than 66,000 Mainers signed petitions to place Question 2 on the ballot and more than 200 businesses and organizations endorsed the campaign, including the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Hospital Association, Maine Small Business Coalition, doctors, nurses and members of law enforcement.

    “We are so thankful for the level of support this issues has received,” said Jennie Pirkl, the campaign manager for Yes on 2. “There are too many people and organizations who were critical to this win to list one at a time, but we particularly want to thank all the people who shared their stories about what Medicaid expansion will mean to them. Their stories and their willingness to share them have helped thousands of Mainers and have inspired us all.” 

    Now, attention immediately turns to implementation of Medicaid expansion.

    “Starting tomorrow, we will turn our focus to the quick implementation of Medicaid expansion. There can be no more delays. More than 70,000 Mainers have waited too long for health care coverage,” said Merrill.

    The Maine State Legislature has tried to pass this Afordable Care Act Medicaid expansion 6 times. But each time that it passed Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it. Now the people have spoken. 

    “Maine has shown the way for the rest of the country,” said Pirkl. “Voters have sent a clear message to Augusta, Washington and the rest of the country that they want more health care, not less. That they want more people to have health coverage, not fewer. Maine has shown if politicians won’t lead on health care, that voters will.”

  • Maine House Republicans Block Marijuana Legislation by Backing Gov. LePage

    The Maine House of Representatives failed to override Governor LePage’s veto of landmark cannabis legislation that would have safely and responsibly implemented the state’s newly passed recreational marijuana referendum during a special legislative session Monday. While the bill originally passed by strong margins, it failed to reach the two-thirds support needed to survive a Governor LePage’s veto (74-62) due to the majority of House Republicans opposing the measure.

    “This was our chance to do our job, to protect the people of Maine and create this new industry. I’m deeply disappointed that this legislation, which was written after six months of work by Democratic, Republican and Independent lawmakers, was successfully derailed by a small group of people,” said Representative Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth), House chair of the Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee.

    “It didn’t matter how thoughtful this legislation was, certain individuals were set on a predetermined outcome of slowing down this process because they didn’t like the outcome of the referendum. While we received strong bipartisan support, those who voted against this bill voted to ignore public safety concerns, abandon law enforcement officers who asked for more guidance, and ease the path to underage marijuana access in Maine. I sincerely hope the people of Maine voice their opinion on today’s vote to their representatives before we return to the Legislature in January.”

    “I’ve been advocating for safe, responsible and legal recreational marijuana ever since for as long as I’ve been in public service — first as the sheriff of Cumberland County, then as a member of the House of Representatives and now as a state senator,” said Sen. Mark Dion (D-Portland), member of the MLI Committee. The governor’s veto is the latest in a long line of setbacks, but we remain closer than ever before to enacting reasonable drug policy reforms to end the system of black-market profits and needless incarceration. We will continue our work, knowing the people of Maine are on our side. It’s only a matter of time before the voters’ will is fulfilled. 

    LD 1650 An Act To Amend the Marijuana Legalization Act originally passed the House by a vote of 84-52.

    The failure to pass LD 1650 ensures the original referendum takes effect as written, preventing critical safety measures and blocking stronger local control for municipalities that were established by the new bill.

    LD 1650 was drafted by a 17-member bipartisan committee established by the legislature and received a 15-2 vote in committee. The group held hours of public hearings, utilized expert testimony and engaged stakeholders affected by the existing law.

    LD 1650 established a clear regulatory framework for adult-use recreational marijuana. Key provisions of the bill included protections against use by minors by banning marketing practices that targeted underage Mainers, provided funding for youth prevention and public safety campaigns, and established stronger guidance for members of law enforcement.

    LD 1650 established an opt-in for local municipalities to preserve community autonomy in entering the new industry. It also provided answers to questions left by the original referendum.

    The referendum includes less clarity and direction in relation to law enforcement and contains fewer safeguards around youth prevention. 

    The referendum also allows for the possibility of marijuana drive-up windows, internet sales and home deliveries, all of which were banned by LD 1650.   

    The Marijuana Legalization Implementation committee will continue to meet.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

     

  • Obama Uses Twitter To Promote Obamacare Enrollment

    Get America Covered/Screenshot 

    By NPR

    Former President Barack Obama took to Twitter Novemeber 1, 2017 in the morning to encourage people to shop for Affordable Care Act health insurance. Obama's rare appeal comes as his signature health care law is under attack by his successor, President Trump, and Republicans in Congress.

    Obama's tweet to his more than 95 million followers includes a short video, set to jaunty music, where the former president urges people to log on to the federal insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, and sign up for coverage for next year.

    "It's November 1, which means today is the first day to get covered for 2018," Obama says. It's not clear where he's standing, but the ocean is in the background.

    While the point of the video, which is on Obama's Facebook page, too, is clearly to gin up business for HealthCare.gov, Obama takes the opportunity to defend his signature achievement. He mentions two of the law's most popular provisions, both of which have been threatened by Republicans.

    "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge you more just for being a woman, or having a preexisting condition — and that's a good thing," he says.

    Republicans in Congress have tried over and over this year to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with an alternative plan. Those efforts have failed in large part because most of the alternative ideas would end with millions fewer people having health coverage.

    Still, President Trump has repeatedly said the Affordable Care Act markets are collapsing. Critics say Trump's actions have weakened those markets because they've injected uncertainty into the system, leading companies to either raise premiums or pull out of the system altogether.

    Average premiums for 2018 will be higher than in 2017, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. But those higher premiums are more than offset by higher government subsidies, for the 85 percent of consumers who buy insurance on the ACA exchanges and qualify for financial assistance.

    An HHS analysis released this week shows the average premium for a 27-year-old making $25,000 a year is 37 percent higher, but the average subsidy rises by 73 percent.

    One of Trump's actions was to cut the budget for outreach and education surrounding this open enrollment season by 90 percent.

    The Obama Twitter video is part of an effort by nonprofit groups to make up for that loss. A group of former Obama administration officials launched a campaign called Get America Covered to get the word out that open enrollment begins November 1 and runs for six weeks.

    Using Obama's star power to spread the word could be pretty effective. But it's far from certain that a Twitter video can make up for the millions of advertising and outreach dollars cut by the Trump administration.

  • Health Care Providers Stand Up Expanding Coverage in Maine - for YES on Question 2

    By Ramona du Houx

    Representatives from a number of prominent health care organizers gathered in October in Portland to endorse a “Yes” vote on Question 2 and to advocate for expanding access to health care coverage for their patients.

    The vote is a matter of life and death for too many people.

    “Covering every Mainer with adequate health care coverage is critical to Maine’s future,” said Dr. Charles Pattavina, an emergency physician at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor and the Maine Medical Association’s president. “With federal matching funds available under the Affordable Care Act, this is a good deal for Maine. It’s the right thing to do for the health of our patients, and it will be an important financial boost for Maine hospitals. 

    Question 2 would expand Medicaid to more than 70,000 Mainers, create new jobs and help to strengthen hospitals in the state. It would also bring more than $500 million a year in new dollars to the state.

    “Increasing the number of Mainers with health insurance by expanding Medicaid would improve quality of life, increase workplace productivity and save lives,” said Sam Zager of the Maine Academy of Family Physicians and Maine Providers Standing Up for Healthcare. “We have a choice to make on Nov. 7 about what sort of society we want. … I urge all Mainers to vote ‘Yes’ on Question 2.” 

    According to Dr. Renee Fay-LeBlanc, Medicaid expansion would provide health care coverage for 1,700 patients at Greater Portland Health, the clinic where she practices.

    (Gov. John Baldacci saved Maine lives by introducing Dirigo Health which expanded coverage to more Mainers than ever before but LePage has dismantled the program even though it was a model for the Affordable Health Care Act - photo by Ramona du Houx.)

    Bryan Wyatt, speaking for the Maine Primary Care Association, said: “Maine’s failure to expand Medicaid has created a crisis for many of the clinics in the state, putting at risk our ability to serve patients and communities," said Bryan Wyatt, speaking for the Maine Primary Care Association. "A ‘Yes’ vote on Question 2 will help to ensure that we can continue to make health care available around the state and provide access to quality care for the people who need it.”

    Endorsing organizations at the event included the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Primary Care Association, the Maine Chapter of the American College of Physicians, the Maine Academy of Family Physicians and Maine Providers Standing Up for Healthcare. The organizations join the Maine Hospital Association, which endorsed Question 2 on Sept. 29, 2017.

    For more information about the “Yes” on 2 campaign, visit: http://mainersforhealthcare.org

  • Anthem Insurance withdraws from Maine’s A.C.A. Individual Exchange Market

    By Ramona du Houx

    Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield announced on September 27, 2017 that they will not sell individual insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act market in Maine in 2018. In the statement from Anthem, they cite a volatile market and changes and uncertainty in the federal government. “It is critical that all Maine people have access to quality, affordable health care. I am extremely disappointed by Anthem’s decision,” said Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon. “I hope that this is a clear signal to all members of Congress and President Trump that we need stability and predictability, not to throw the entire industry into chaos every few months on political whims. The responsible course of action is to address existing issues in the Affordable Care Act.”

     Existing customers who purchased Anthem plans through the exchange can renew their current plan in 2018, but only off the exchange and without federal financial assistance. This change will not affect Medicare patients or those enrolled in employer-based insurance.

    “Anthem’s tragic decision for Mainers is a direct result of the flawed effort by Republicans in Washington to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Mark Lawrence, Chair of the Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee. “This is what happens when you turn healthcare into a partisan issue, despite the fact that the public wants the ACA improved, not repealed. Moving forward, we must focus on fixing existing issues and engendering stability.”

    “ObamaCare is continuing to implode and cause significant hardships for Maine’s people,” said Governor Paul LePage. 

    However LePage neglected to site the fact that by not accepting the free Medicaid funding from the A.C.A. he has caused hardships in Maine to hospitals, patients and insurance companies like Anthem. By not accepting the federal A.C.A. funding 10,000 people are still without health insurance and costs have sky rocketed for hospital medical treatment because those who use the emergency room for healthcare make insurance rates increase.

    Governor John Baldacci at a press conference for his Dirigo Health Care Act in 2005, photo by Ramona du Houx

    Governor John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health Care Act made sure costs were shared and quality health care became accessible to all Mainers. Dirigo Health became a model for America and many components were used in drafting the A.C.A. 

    States with governors that never accepted the federal Medicaid funding to implement the A.C.A. have put a burden on the entire A.C.A. system thereby making reforms necessary.

    Harvard Pilgrim has announced it will stay in Maine’s A.C.A. marketplace.

     

  • Maine's New Licensing Rules for Child Care Providers Might Put Children at Risk

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Hymanson: “Regulations need to keep children safe and ensure quality.”

    A new set of licensing rules for in-home child care providers developed by the Department of Health and Human Services took effect Wednesday, September 27, 2017. The new rules potentially put Maine's children at risk.

    “Access to high-quality, affordable child care is critical to early development, and therefore critical to Maine’s future. Many people in our large, rural state have limited choices for their child care providers, so the regulations need to keep children safe and ensure quality by standards set by child-care experts. These, our next generation of citizens and their parents, deserve that,"said Health and Human Services Chair, Dr. Patty Hymanson.

    “Rolling back these regulations has been opposed by advocates, experts and legislators. Parents need to have access to every piece of information about every part of the day care center where they entrust care and education of their child. These rules will negatively impact the quality and standard of care and I will work within the legislative process to ensure the safety of our kids.”

    The new rules allow in-home child care providers to care for more children than the state previously allowed, without having to add staff. They will also lessen the amount of information to which parents receive about the facility and restrict the degree of access parents have to their children while they’re in care. 

    “High-quality, affordable child care is out of reach for too many families in our state. I regularly hear from people in my district who either cannot find care they can afford, cannot find suitable care or cannot find open spots for their children at all," said Sen. Ben Chipman of Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. "The department’s solution to this problem is to impose new rules on childcare providers that diminish the standards of care. But that’s not a solution that works for Maine families. I’m committed to doing what’s necessary to make sure state regulations expand access to safe, responsible and affordable child care.  Our families deserve nothing less.”

  • Trump's Budget proposal risks Maine’s communities’ safety from extreme weather

    Photos and article by Ramona du Houx

    After Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma recently pummeled our coasts, Environment Maine warned that pending budget proposals from the Trump administration and Congress threaten key programs that protect our communities from storm- related impacts. 

    “If there is any lesson to be learned from these devastating hurricanes, it’s that Maine deserves better shelter from the storms,” said Jacqueline Guyol from Environment Maine. “Rather than protecting our most vulnerable communities, budget proposals on the table in Washington, D.C.right now threaten coastal resiliency, remove protections for flood-absorbing wetlands, neglect funding for stormwater and sewage treatment, and expose more Americans to toxic chemicals."

    The group documented threats to programs that prevent or curb flooding, sewage overflows and leaks from toxic waste sites.  

    Scientests from the University of Maine concur.

    Our lab studies have shown that although elevated temperatures increase survival and growth in American lobsters, animals in the warmest temperatures show signs of physiological stress and developmental instability, in ways that could predispose them to disease and negatively affect their health. While this is certainly not evidence of an imminent population collapse, the problems we see in the lab raise my concern for the health of our lobster populations if temperatures continue to rise,”said Heather Hamlin, a SEANET Lobster Researcher with the University of Maine.

    Environment Maine’s analysis found:

    • Here in Maine we receive $2.56 million in grants that allow our communities to protect their coasts from storms and rising seas. These funds would be cut or eliminated under both the House and Trump administration’s budgets.

    • The Clean Water State Revolving Fund provided $10.3 million in 2016 for Maine to repair and build stormwater and sewage treatment infrastructure. Nationwide, our wastewater systems face a $271 billion backlog, yet the House and President’s spending bills fail to provide proper funding to this critical program.

    • One in four Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site, the most toxic waste sites in the country. Maine has 16 such sites, and the Superfund program is tasked with cleaning up these sites, responding to environmental crises, and protecting the public from hazardous substances, but the Trump administration has proposed cutting the Superfund program by nearly one-third.Superfund program by nearly one-third.

    Dr. Janis Petzel, Physician with the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine Chapter said, “We can’t separate our health from our climate. Once the climate is altered there is only treatment for climate related health problems. In order to prevent these diseases and illnesses, we must work together to support public policy that works to slow climate change and protects our health. Cuts to the EPA will only serve to threaten Maine children’s and other vulnerable population’s health at risk.

    Environment Maine also called for preventing more global warming- fueled extreme weather in the future.

  • Maine State Rep. Golden’s veteran mental health access bill becomes law

    A bill sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, to help veterans get access to mental health care became law on August 2, 2017.

    “This law will cover the cost of inpatient and outpatient mental health care for veterans, help cut dangerous wait times for veterans in crisis and gather data about the number of veterans who need care,” Golden said. “One of the goals of this new law is to use this data to help the state demonstrate to Washington the need for Department of Veterans Affairs inpatient beds here in Maine.”

    Of the roughly 30,000 veterans in Maine who don’t use Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, health care services, it is estimated that more than 10,000 are in need of mental health services.

    Photo: Rep. Golden, second from left, touring the Portland Jet Port with Transportation Committiee.

    The bill, LD 1231, will gather data on mental health admissions to determine if the person seeking help is a veteran and whether they qualify for veteran’s services. It also sets up a pilot program to provide case management for veterans requiring mental health care. Golden’s floor speech on the measure is available here.

    There are currently no inpatient mental health care beds in Maine specifically for veterans. Those requiring care through the VA are sent out of state.

    "It's unacceptable that we don't have long-term inpatient mental health care options for veterans in Maine," said Golden. "We need to push the VA to fix this so that our veterans don't have to go out of state for the care they need."

    The bill will go into effect immediately as an emergency measure that received the support of more than two-thirds of the Legislature.

    Golden is a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where he served as an Infantry Assaultman. He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He is the Assistant House Majority Leader. 

  • Maine State Sen. Carson's Public Health Nursing Bill holds back LePage's attack on healthcare

    The Maine Legislature on August 2, 2017 successfully rebuked Gov. Paul LePage’s last-ditch effort to block a new law to restore the strength of Maine’s public health nursing program, which protects the state’s people from disease outbreaks and works with communities to provide preventative health services.

    The Senate overrode the governor’s veto with a 29-5 vote, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for the bill to become law over LePage’s objection. The override vote also won two-thirds in the House of Representatives, 101-34.

    The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brownie Carson, said the veto override would reverse Gov. LePage’s year long effort to dismantle Maine’ public health infrastructure.

    “There is no greater obligation for elected officials than ensuring the health and wellbeing of the residents in this great state, and public health nurses are the vanguard of our public health system,” said Sen. Carson, a Harpswell Democrat. “These dedicated health professionals protect us from disease outbreaks, they work with our families to ensure the health of our children, and they address a dire need for preventative health services at the community level. They work with anyone, regardless of their income or their insurance status. For six years, this administration has attacked our public health infrastructure. This bill is a critical step to reversing the damage.”

    Unlike other health care providers who treat individuals, public health nurses promote and protect the health of entire populations, with a goal of preventing disease and disability.  In Maine, PHNs conduct home visits with young families and pregnant women, providing education and assessment to help new moms and dads raise healthy children. They also assist families with substance-affected babies, and help frail or isolated Mainers in rural parts of the state stay in their homes by providing in-home care.

    But their work goes beyond the household, and PHNs provide crisis response services, such as in 2009 when they established 238 clinics in Maine to provide H1N1 vaccines. In 2011, 59 public health nurses worked throughout the state from offices ranging from Sanford to Calais to Fort Kent. But since 2011, positions in the public health nursing program have been left vacant or eliminated. Today, the program is a shadow of its former self, with just one-third the staff on hand to respond to emergencies and promote wellbeing in Maine. Cuts and understaffing in the state’s corps of public health nurses has jeopardized Maine’s ability to respond to health crises such as disease outbreaks and the drug epidemic.

    This year, the biennial budget includes 48 positions within the Public Health Nursing program. Sen. Carson’s bill, LD 1108, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to promptly fill those positions, removing Gov. LePage’s ability to gut public health services by refusing to hire. The bill will ensure professional public health nurses will stand at the ready to safeguard Maine’s wellbeing against health emergencies, chronic disease and epidemic.

    Today’s shortage leaves the state unprepared to meet the public health needs of Mainers in the best of times, let alone in an emergency. In the meantime, Maine has bucked national trends to become the only state where infant mortality rates are rising, and a drug epidemic is ravaging communities throughout the state.

    Last year, 1,000 drug-affected babies were born in Maine. At the same time, referrals for homes visits by public health nurses are going unfulfilled because of a lack of staffing in the program.

    The bill earned bipartisan support, and the backing of the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association, AARP Maine and the Primary Care Association. Health care professionals including doctors, nurses and public health experts from Eastern Maine Health, Central Maine Health and several rural, critical-access hospitals also testified in favor of the bill.

    TESTIMONY FROM EXPERTS IN SUPPORT OF LD 1108:

    “We have a public health system for the same reason we have police, and firemen, and the military. These groups all serve to protect us from threats,” said Dr. Dervilla McCann, chief of population health at Central Maine Medical Center. McCann described the 1918 flu pandemic that rocked Maine and killed more people globally in 24 years than AIDS killed in 24 years. “At a time when the state is struggling with an opioid epidemic impacting newborns, it seems extraordinarily ill timed to dismantle the single best tool we have to safeguard at risk children. Similarly, it is foolhardy to leave the citizens of our state in the same state of unreadiness that lead to such tragic loss of life 100 years ago.”

    Peter Michaud, J.D., R.N. from the Maine Medical Association, pushed back against the idea that other health care providers can perform the tasks of public health nurses: “Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and the nurses who work with them have their hands full with what they do now, and with the opioid crisis they are being asked to do even more. It makes no sense to add the entire menu of public health nursing to their plates. They don’t have the capacity to handle the additional duties, and they certainly don’t have the capacity to respond to a new outbreak of infectious disease.”

  • Grants from Full Plates/Full Potential for Maine School breakfasts

    Full Plates Full Potential, an organization dedicated to ending child hunger in Maine, just granted over $26,000 to Maine Public Schools and nonprofits addressing student hunger and increasing access to nutritious school breakfast.

    The grants are funding breakfast models called ‘breakfast after the bell’, which have increased the number of children  participating in the healthy School Breakfast Program. Teachers who have implemented the ‘breakfast after the bell’ models have also seen fewer disciplinary issues, less visits to the nurse's office and better results academically.

    The traditional breakfast in the cafeteria offered before the bell isn’t meeting the needs of all Maine students. Many students arrive at school just as the bell rings or later and don’t have the time to get breakfast before starting their day. Models such as Breakfast in the Classroom and Grab N’ Go allows all students the opportunity to eat a healthy breakfast before starting their school day.

    “Besides meeting their nutritional needs, a full belly allows students to focus on their academics and to reach their full potential,”  according to Michelle Lamm chair of the FPFP breakfast sub-committee and supervisor at the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative.

    Research by Feeding America shows that when kids lack proper nutrition, they’re less able to live up to their full potential in the classroom—and later in life, too, when they join the workforce and raise families of their own. In 2016, nearly 87,000 kids in Maine — 47 percentof all public-school students—lived in “food insecure” households (homes where there is often not enough nutritious food to eat). 

    About Full Plates Full Potential

    Full Plates Full Potential is a 501(c)3 organization that is dedicated to ending child hunger in Maine. Every day, thousands of Maine children don’t get enough good, nutritious food to eat.

    Full Plates Full Potential believes it’s possible to increase the number of children enrolled, participating, and consuming nutritious meals available through the safety net of child nutrition and school-based programs, eliminating child hunger in Maine within five years.

    Full Plates Full Potential funds best practices to increase access and participation in USDA child nutrition programs, which include: breakfast, lunch, child and adult care food programs and the summer food service program. FPFP was established in 2015 and has built a strong track record of providing technical assistance to schools and nonprofits, creating a five year plan to end childhood hunger and giving grants to support best practices. Their website www.fullplates.org 

  • Obama's Facebook Statement on the US Senate's Proposed Healthcare Bill

    Former President Barack Obama's Facebook Statement on the proposed healthcare bill going through the US Senate:

    (photo of President Barack Obama in Maine after ACA healthcare legislation was passed and signed into law, photo taken 2010 by Ramona du Houx)

    Our politics are divided. They have been for a long time. And while I know that division makes it difficult to listen to Americans with whom we disagree, that’s what we need to do today.

    I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.

    We didn’t fight for the Affordable Care Act for more than a year in the public square for any personal or political gain – we fought for it because we knew it would save lives, prevent financial misery, and ultimately set this country we love on a better, healthier course.

    Nor did we fight for it alone. Thousands upon thousands of Americans, including Republicans, threw themselves into that collective effort, not for political reasons, but for intensely personal ones – a sick child, a parent lost to cancer, the memory of medical bills that threatened to derail their dreams.

    And you made a difference. For the first time, more than ninety percent of Americans know the security of health insurance. Health care costs, while still rising, have been rising at the slowest pace in fifty years. Women can’t be charged more for their insurance, young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, contraceptive care and preventive care are now free. Paying more, or being denied insurance altogether due to a preexisting condition – we made that a thing of the past.

    We did these things together. So many of you made that change possible.

    At the same time, I was careful to say again and again that while the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step forward for America, it was not perfect, nor could it be the end of our efforts – and that if Republicans could put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I would gladly and publicly support it.

    That remains true. So I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it’s to make people’s lives better, not worse.

    But right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would do the opposite. It would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system.

    The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.

    Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

    I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

    To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

    That might take some time and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. But I believe that’s what people want to see. I believe it would demonstrate the kind of leadership that appeals to Americans across party lines. And I believe that it’s possible – if you are willing to make a difference again. If you’re willing to call your members of Congress. If you are willing to visit their offices. If you are willing to speak out, let them and the country know, in very real terms, what this means for you and your family.

    After all, this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country – who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that’s always worth fighting for.

  • Revised AHCA Would Devastate Health Care in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    As details emerge about the latest version of the American Health Care Act, it’s clear that bill still targets low-income workers, people with disabilities and the older people to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. 

    “The Senate version of the American Health Care Act remains cruel at its core and will lead to millions of people losing health insurance,” said Ann Woloson of Maine Equal Justice Partners. “This devastating proposal was built in secret, without debate or public input. And now Senate leadership is trying to rush a vote before the terrible impact of this bill becomes clear.”

    Sen. Susan Collins's vote is critical to help hold back this bill that will end up kicking millions off healthcare, and result in many deaths.

    According to published reports, the Senate version of the bill cuts Medicaid even more deeply than the House version and phases out Medicaid expansion, which has made health insurance available to millions of Americans.

     The AHCA uses a per-person funding scheme that will starve Medicaid of the resources it needs over time. 

    The bill also allows states to request waivers that would allow them to reduce insurance coverage requirements for everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions.

    “Voters have made clear they want more affordable health care, not less, and they certainly reject cuts to care to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy,” Woloson said. “The Senate bill will be devastating to Maine, and particularly to rural parts of the state, children and people with disabilities and older Mainers. Low-wage workers would also be hurt as they would likely see increases in premiums they pay for marketplace coverage.” 

    For more than 40 years, Medicaid, a federal-state partnership, has provided quality health care to low-income families. About 263,000 Mainers count on Medicaid for care.

    In addition to cuts, changes in the funding mechanism for Medicaid are also being considered as part of the American Health Care Act. These funding schemes, including per-capita caps, would end the federal commitment to pay for the care each person needs, ratcheting down overall funding and shifting costs to states and individuals.

    Older Mainers, people with disabilities, children and people living in rural Maine stand to lose the most under these proposals.

     Maine is the oldest state in the nation and the percentage of people with disabilities is also 30 percent higher than the national average. Any reduction in federal Medicaid funds would have a devastating impact on older Mainers and people with disabilities. It would cause thousands to lose care and threaten the well-being of Maine’s most vulnerable residents.

    • Nearly 50,000 low-income older Mainers receive health care through Medicaid as well 63,000 Maine people with disabilities.
    • Two out of three nursing home residents are enrolled in Medicaid. The single largest expenditure for Medicaid is residential services, which includes nursing home and assisted living facilities.
    • Maine has a chronic shortage of direct care workers for both older Mainers and persons with serious mental health or other disabilities, meaning that fewer services are delivered than are needed. Federal cuts would jeopardize this already too-small workforce.

    Maine’s rural counties have the highest percentages of residents who rely on Medicaid for their health care — any federal cuts will disproportionately impact these counties.

    • Rural counties with the largest Medicaid populations are projected to be among those with the greatest growth of seniors 65 and older. Federal cuts from block grants or per-capita caps would grow just as Maine’s population is aging creating a two-fold blow to rural Maine.
    • Maine’s rural hospitals are economic drivers in their communities but they’re already in trouble and federal cuts would put them in serious jeopardy. With fewer people covered and cuts in services and provider rates, more people will seek care in hospital emergency rooms. Uncompensated care costs will go up. Hospitals may be forced to close. Medical services will leave Maine’s rural communities.

    The Together for Medicaid is a collaborative effort by organizations from across the state that have joined together in opposition to significant changes to Medicaid’s financing structure that would undermine the program.

     

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Multi-Million Dollar Outreach Effort to Defend the Environment

    By Ramona du Houx


    Environment Maine and Environment America announced a $7.5 million public education campaign in June, to convince a majority of U.S. senators to stand up for a cleaner, healthier future, and oppose a return to a dirtier, more dangerous past.
     
    "Here in Maine, the campaign is running out of our campaign office in Portland. We’ll be talking to 23,651 people about threats to Maine’s beloved environment. Across the country with 30+ campaign offices in 22 states and the District of Columbia, the summer-long effort will educate over 1 million Americans face-to-face, over the phone, and online about the need for our members of Congress to stand up for our core environmental and health protections.  
     
    “Since the first Earth Day nearly 50 years ago, our air has gotten cleaner, our waterways have become less polluted, and more of our treasured landscapes have been protected. But we're still not close to having the clean and healthy environment we need or deserve and we need to keep moving forward, not backward," said Julia Gesensway, Campaign Organizer of Environment Maine.
     
    Research from The Frontier Group and the Environment America Research & Policy Center, as of 2015, reveals that Americans in nearly every state still breathe polluted air. Too many beautiful and ecologically and culturally sensitive areas are threatened by drilling, mining or other destructive activities, while too many waterways are polluted.

    Unfortunately, President Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement along with his many proposals that weaken existing climate and clean air safeguards, fail to solve our environmental problems and jeopardize the progress we've already made to reduce pollution.

    So far this session Congress, with Republican's in the majority, has failed to champion clean air and clean water. While Rep. Chellie Pingree received a perfect scorecard of 100 percent, Rep. Bruce Poliquin received a score of only 9 percent. 

    "To give our families and future generations a great chance at a healthy and safe environment, we need to stop environmental rollbacks and move quickly and boldly to ensure clean air and water and a livable planet. We need a funded and functioning EPA and we need to strengthen--not weaken--our core environmental, conservation and public health protections," noted Gesensway.
     
    Environment America's outreach campaign, reaching from Maine to California, is calling on Congress to be part of a Green Line of Defense, voting to stop any rollbacks of current law and instead push the nation towards 100 percent renewable energy, fully protected waterways, and increased federal protection of sensitive lands.

    In addition, the organization’s outreach teams will collect hundreds of thousands of petitions, help generate 10,000 calls to senators, and organize visibility events encouraging each congressional delegation to take strong environmental action. 

    Gesensway added, "The science has never been clearer, there's never been as much mobilized public support as there is today for a clean and healthy environment, and the means for achieving it are well within our reach. I'm confident our campaign will help galvanize the public, and make sure people's voices are heard loud and clear. Together, I know we'll find the way to protect the environmental values we share and the places we love. Our families and our future depend on it.”

  • Maine House advances measure to train educators on youth mental health first aid

    A bill to ensure health educators in secondary schools receive youth mental health first aid earned initial approval from the Maine House of Representatives Monday.

    “I appreciate the bipartisan support this bill has received,” said Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, the bill’s sponsor. “It makes sense to make sure our secondary school health teachers, who are already teaching a mental health curriculum, have access to training that provides them with the most up-to-date, non-judgmental information about mental health and substance use disorders.”

    Youth Mental Health First Aid, or YMHFA, is a national, best-practice, evidence-based certification course that empowers people with the information they need to recognize, respond to, and have the information to guide someone with mental health needs to the appropriate help. The standards for the program have been set by the National Council for Behavioral Health and target youth ages 12 to 18. 

    Providing training in Youth Mental Health First Aid for educators who teach health education to secondary school students would ensure that they have access to accurate, un-stigmatized information about what mental illness is and what resources and supports are available locally.

    During the public hearing, McCreight cited data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, the annual, self-report tool used in public schools to track trends in student behaviors and functioning.

    “Only 22 percent of Maine youth report having support from an adult,” said McCreight. “However, one proven way to help youth who are struggling with mental health issues is a relationship with at least one adult who understands what mental illness really is and who can provide adequate support that connects them with help.”

    Funding for YMHFA training would be available through Now Is The Time federal grant monies through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration administered by Maine’s Public Health Regional System, Project Aware grant.  The grant would provide for trainers, materials, payment for substitute teachers and subsidies for teachers who do the training on their own time.  National Alliance on Mental Illness, Maine is currently receiving funding through the federal grant until 2018 and has already trained 105 health educators of the estimated 380 health educators statewide.

    “The goal of this bill is to make sure that every health educator in our secondary schools, and all of their students, have access to the benefits gained by this training,” said McCreight.

    The measure, LD 1335, faces further votes in both the House and Senate.

    McCreight, a member of the Legislature’s Judiciary and Taxation Committees, is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents Harpswell, West Bath and part of Brunswick. She is also the House Chair of the Task Force to Address the Opiate Crisis.

     

  • Family care bill would modernize ME child care, elderly services system

    Editorial by Lori Moses is executive director of Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland

    As the director of a licensed child care facility in Portland, I know first-hand that our existing child care system is fundamentally flawed. The ways our families live and work have changed dramatically over the past few decades, yet our caregiving policies are stuck in the 1950s.

    This is one of the reasons why so many families today are struggling in ways that their parents did not. While we once could rely on women’s unpaid labor at home to care for children, that is no longer the reality, as more women are in the workforce than ever before.

    Child care is the backbone of a healthy economy. Without it, many parents wouldn’t be able to work. Yet we are one of the few countries where child care is almost exclusively left up to the private market, and where the entire cost of child care is paid for by families. This has serious consequences for everyone involved, from families, to the owners and operators of child care facilities, to the child care professionals who keep them running.

    I know first-hand how difficult it can be for parents to afford quality child care. The private tuition for infants in my program is $15,236 a year, which is far out of reach for most residents of Maine. The state’s reimbursement rates for federal vouchers are about 20 percent lower than our private tuition, which is why so many child care providers can’t afford to accept them, resulting in limited access to child care for families who qualify for a voucher. My program is fortunate to have gap funding through various grants and contracts, or many of our families would not be able to access our program either.

    Ironically, even as most families cannot afford the cost of child care, providers like myself are faced with the slimmest of margins and can barely cover our own costs. While we do our best to pay fair wages to the child care professionals at our center, and are fortunate to be able to offer benefits for full-time work, the truth of the matter is that wages are still way too low.

    Essentially, the low wages of our child care staff subsidizes the entire child care system. This is a moral problem, in that those who care for others should be paid dignified wages, as well as a pragmatic one, as it makes it difficult to attract and retain qualified teachers. The high turnover in our field, especially in this tight labor market, isn’t good for workers, it isn’t good for families and certainly it isn’t good for the children.

    We are on an unsustainable path right now that benefits no one. Because of the high cost of care, many families are forced to make impossible choices between work and caring for their loved ones. Many Mainers end up leaving the workforce, losing income and affecting their future retirement security, as well as hurting our state’s economy. Some parents are forced to make child care choices in the informal, underground market that may actually do harm to the children. Clearly, our children are not our priority.

    It’s time we address this new reality and modernize our social safety net to meet the needs of families. It’s up to states like ours to lead the way.

    This is why I support the universal family care bill introduced by Rep. Drew Gattine, which would provide universal child care, support for stay-at-home parents and universal home care for seniors and people with disabilities. This would all be paid for by ensuring that the wealthiest of our residents contribute their fair share in taxes. It would also address the low wages currently being paid to child care and home care professionals by guaranteeing a living wage, which would go a long way toward attracting the workforce that our children and our seniors need and deserve.

    If we really want all of our children to reach their potential, we must find a different way to support them, their families and our economy. That solution for Maine is universal family care.

  • LePage Proposes Bill that would Directly Increase Maine Kids living in Poverty



    By Ramona du Houx

    Governor LePage, Commissioner Mayhew, and Rep. Ken Fredette rolled out the draft idea of a proposed bill that would plunge Maine children, and their families, further into poverty. The governor needs the bill to codify some changes to welfare programs that his administration has already made by executive action. Many of the proposals outlined by LePage have been introduced as bills in the past but died in the legislature.

    Since LePgae's so called reforms have been put in place the number of children living in deep poverty and the infant mortality rate has risen. According to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book, more Maine children live in poverty than before the recession. Now, over 82,000 children in Maine — more than the entire populations of Bangor, Augusta and Biddeford combined - live in poverty.

    The USDA estimates that 15.8 percent of Maine households, or more than 209,000 individuals, are food insecure.
     
    “These so-called ‘reforms’ by the administration have created lasting damage. We’ve driven children and families deeper into poverty, increased childhood hunger, and removed basic health care from struggling families," said Health and Human Services Chair, Dr. Patty Hymanson. 
     
    "I believe that true reform means improving people’s lives, not driving them deeper into poverty. True reform should be based on a vision that would reduce child poverty by creating real opportunities for Maine families. I propose stabilizing families so that they can meet their basic needs, breaking down barriers to work, eliminating the welfare ‘cliff,’ expanding access to education for better paying jobs, making child care and transportation more accessible and affordable and holding government accountable to administer programs that truly reduce poverty."

    Trying to promote the package that would potentially endanger thousands of children LePage has the audacity to call his proposed changes — the Welfare Reform for Increased Security and Employment Act.

    "If we want Maine children to thrive, we need to reduce the number of children living in poverty. That starts with supporting and properly administering effective anti-poverty programs, while creating an economy that works for everyone," said Rita Furlow is senior policy analyst at the Maine Children’s Alliance.

    LePage's Draconian measure will:

    Shorten the lifetime limit for Maine families under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from five years to three years, also codifying a work requirement for the same program and establishing a $5,000 asset test on certain households that get food stamps. It will also:

    — Place photographs on electronic benefits cards
    — Ban or suspend parents not cooperating with child support services from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify lottery and gambling winners of $5,000 or more from receiving food assistance
    — Require education programs paid for with TANF money to be for jobs with average or better outlooks
    — Ban repeat felony drug offenders from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify all adults in a household from receiving TANF if an individual is convicted of welfare-related theft or fraud

    While the Republicans declare they want less government LePage continues to propose more government invasion into the lives of Maine citizens.

  • Insurance companies are the healthcare problem—not Obamacare

     

    Patients and primary care physicians are getting the raw end of the deal for the sake of corporate profits

    Editorial by Cathleen London, M.D., a primary care physician practicing in Milbridge.

    With the recent news about increases in premiums for health plans sold through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, everyone wants to vilify the ACA. The ACA is but a symptom of the issue. Where are our policy dollars going?

    As a primary care physician, I am on the front lines. Milbridge is remote. In good weather, we are 30 to 40 minutes from the nearest emergency room, so my office operates as an urgent care facility as well as a family medical practice.

    It can take 20 minutes for an ambulance to get here (as it did one time when I had a patient in ventricular tachycardia — a fatal rhythm). I have to be stocked to stabilize and treat.

    We are also about two hours from specialist care. Fortunately, I am trained to handle about 90 percent of medical problems, as my patients often do not want or do not have the resources to travel. I have to be prepared for much more than I did in Boston or New York City, where I had colleagues and other materials down the hall or nearby. No longer do I have a hospital blocks away.

    One evening I was almost home after a full day’s work. Around 7:30, I got a call on the emergency line regarding an 82-year-old man who had fallen and split his head open. His wife wanted to know if I could see him, even though he was not a patient of mine.

    Instead of sending them to the ER, I went back to the office. I spent 90 minutes evaluating him, suturing his wound and making sure that nothing more sinister had occurred than a loss of footing by a man who has mild dementia. When I was sure that the man would be safe, I let them go.

    I billed a total of $789 for the visit, repair, after-hours and emergency care costs. Stating that the after-hours and emergency services had been billed incorrectly, Martin’s Point Health Care threw out the claims and reimbursed me $105, which does not even cover the suture and other materials I used.

    I called them about their decision, said that it was not right and let them know they’d lose me if they reimbursed this as a routine patient visit. They replied, “Go ahead and send your termination letter” – which I did.

    The same day, Anthem Blue Cross kept me on the phone for 45 minutes regarding a breast MRI recommended by radiologists on a woman whose mother and sister had died of breast cancer. She’d had five months of breast discharge that wasn’t traceable to anything benign (and it turns out the MRI is highly suspicious for cancer).

    Anthem did not want to approve the MRI unless it was to localize a lesion for biopsy, even though the mammogram had been inconclusive! This should have been a slam-dunk fast track to approval; instead, dealing with Anthem wasted a good part of my day.

    Then Aetna told me there is no way to negotiate fees in Maine. I was somewhat flabbergasted. I do more here than I did in either Brookline, Massachusetts, or New York. The rates should be higher given the level of care I am providing. I have chosen not to participate with them. This only hurts patients; however, I cannot keep losing money on visits.

    I do lose money on MaineCare – their reimbursement is below what it costs me to see a patient. For now, that is a decision that I am living with.

    I had thought those losses would be offset by private insurance companies, but their cost shifting to patients is obscene. I pay half of my employees’ health insurance, though I’m not required to by law – I just think it is the right thing to do.

    My personal policy costs close to $900 a month for me and my sons (all healthy), and each of us has a $6,000 deductible. This means I am paying rack rate for a policy that provides only bare-bones coverage.

    Something is wrong with the system. In one day, I encountered everything wrong with insurance. I am not trying to scam the system. I am literally trying to survive. I am trying to give care in an underserved area.

    This is not the fault of Obamacare, which stopped the most egregious problems with insurance companies. Remember lifetime caps? Remember denials for pre-existing conditions? Remember the retroactive cancellation of insurance policies? Returning to that is not an option.

    One answer is direct primary care: contracting straight with patients to provide their care, instead of going through insurance companies to get paid. I offer it (though I still accept Medicare, MaineCare and some private insurers). Many of my colleagues have also opted for direct primary care – they’ve experienced the same frustrations I have. 

    Something has to change if we are to attract up-and-coming medical students to primary care and retain practicing physicians. When both patients and physicians are frustrated, we know that only greed is winning, and the blame for that lies with corporations.

     

     

  • 24 Million without healthcare—Why? We have to do better

     

    Editorial by Timothy Burns - the chief radiation physicist at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer, where he ensures patients get safe and effective radiation treatments. He is also active in the newly formed Bangor chapter of Maine AllCare.

    I know numbers. I am a radiation oncology physicist, so I use math and science to help physicians and the rest of our team treat cancer patients with X-rays. I’m used to large numbers and complex systems, but hearing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimates about the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act left me numb. 

    There are a lot of numbers we can discuss in respect to this bill: $880 billion, the cut to Medicaid; $600 billion, the tax cut; 43 percent, the percent of births in Maine to mothers on Medicaid; $7,260, the estimated increase in out-of-pocket costs to a 60-year-old making $20,000 per year in Penobscot County. 

    As bad as those numbers are, the more important number is 24 million, which is really all you need to know about House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s health care plan. That’s how many Americans the Congressional Budget Office predicts will lose their insurance by 2026 if this plan becomes law. That is a big number. If you remember it, great, but you can leave those numbers to the policy experts for a minute. There is a much smaller number I want to talk about: one.

    We are privileged to live in America. Our industries, ingenuity and ideals serve as inspiration to the world. While we excel on so many levels, we fall woefully short when it comes to health care. The American medical community should be the envy of our peers, but there is one glaring hole. If we get sick, we expect the exams, blood tests, diagnostic imaging, genetic testing, consultations, surgery, chemotherapy, long-term care or whatever medical intervention is called for, but we can get it only if we have the right insurance or the means to pay. 

    In America, arbitrary personal factors often determine if you can get health care at a cost you can afford. You may be eligible for Medicare, VA coverage or Medicaid. Your employer may offer you coverage. This system leaves massive gaps, and that is what puts us in a category of one globally. One neighbor can feel a dreaded lump and get the best care money can buy. Another could feel the same lump and know she can’t afford to pay the doctor’s bill and the grocery bill. She puts off the doctor so her kids can eat. The lump grows, and the cancer spreads. Instead of seeing her children graduate, get married and have kids of their own as her neighbor does, without insurance she dies needlessly and much too young. 

    This, some would argue, is the American dream. Both neighbors have access to the same insurance and care. They had the freedom to choose their care. That’s personal liberty, they say. 

    This is nothing new. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.”

    The evidence is overwhelming and clear: People are more likely to die prematurely when they lack insurance, and the Republican plan will drastically decrease the number of people with insurance. We need our political leaders to know it’s not acceptable in the richest country on Earth to pass laws that could result in thousands of preventable deaths each year. No law is perfect, especially in health care. But the American Health Care Act is not even a good faith effort to insure more people. So, let’s revisit our lonely number, one. 

    We can improve our health care system by allowing everyone to enroll in a plan with a single payer. Another bill, HR 676, is before Congress that would expand Medicare to provide health coverage for all Americans. If you are that one who loses insurance or are priced out of the market before you feel the lump, your lawmakers have failed you. What tax cuts are worth that?

    One is easier to remember than 24 million. Take it from a physicist.

  • Don’t block Maine veterans’ access to their doctor

    Editorial by Assistant House Majority Leader Representative Jared Golden 

    Like many veterans, after serving in the US Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting vital Department of Veterans Affairs medical services helped me transition out of the military and start a new chapter to my life back home in Maine.

    Today, there are veterans who are facing unnecessary roadblocks to accessing the medical services they have earned because state government has dragged its feet on complying with federal Real ID standards.

    That’s not ok. The good news is we can do something now to help these veterans instead of waiting to resolve the larger issue of state compliance with federal ID standards.

    The Real ID Act was enacted by Congress in 2005, but Maine refused to comply.

    We’ve gotten waivers in the past to protect Mainers from the repercussions of noncompliance, but in 2016 our waiver application was denied.

    Now, Maine driver’s licenses don’t meet the new federal Real ID standard, which is being phased in over the next year.

    While Mainers from all walks of life will be impacted beginning in 2018, some southern Maine vets are already facing a problem right now.

    Since Feb. 1, approximately 500 Maine veterans who get their medical care from a VA facility at the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire haven’t been able to use their driver’s license to access the base because it is not Real ID compliant.

    They need a second form of ID, such as a Veterans Health Identification Card or a US Passport Card to satisfy the Real ID criteria to allow them access to the base and their medical services.

    Unfortunately, many veterans have not received the VA’s new health identification card.

    No veteran should be punished for bureaucratic red tape and uncertainty caused by the state or federal government, especially when it means they can’t access healthcare.

    After hearing about this problem, I proposed a bill to pay for passports for these veterans.

    Several of my colleagues on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee figured out, however, that the simplest, most affordable solution is to make sure that these veterans have valid Passport Cards that cost less than a passport.

    LD 213 is an immediate, cost-effective fix which would pay for the impacted veterans to get Passport Cards, which cost about $30 each.

    The bill will only apply to veterans in southern Maine affected by the requirement and any excess funds would be placed in an account to provide assistance to help financially struggling veterans.

    I was proud to see the bill pass unanimously in committee and through the House by a vote of 110 to 8.

    Now, the Senate has to take a final vote next week and the bill will await Governor LePage’s signature.

    From the vets at Pease Air National Guard Base to firefighters and everyday workers trying to go to work on federal bases, Maine’s inaction on Real ID is causing real problems to our families and economy.

    Prominent Republicans including Governor LePage and Congressman Bruce Poliquin have written to the Legislature stressing veterans’ access to healthcare clinics on federal bases as a core reason behind moving Maine towards Real ID compliance.

    Based on that shared concern, I’m optimistic the governor will sign LD 213 as an immediate fix until we can fully comply with Real ID.

    Finding solutions to problems like this one and doing something good to help people faced with a problem they didn’t create is exactly the kind of work that the people of Maine want from their legislators. 

    I’m encouraged by the bipartisan teamwork that has gone into this legislation so far. Let’s keep up the good work and pass this bill into law as quickly as possible for these veterans.

     

  • Family struggles with Maine's retirement system over veteran disability benefits- Rep. Berry has fix

    Wife of former Marine Patrol Officer testified in favor of a fix authored by Rep. Seth Berry

    A Brunswick woman wants to make sure that what happened to her husband and family never happens to anyone else.

    In a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee this week, Darcie Couture urged passage of a measure that would make sure disabled veterans who are part of the Public Employee Retirement System qualify for disability benefits if they become unable to work.

    Couture’s husband, Scott, served in the Marine Patrol for over 15 years and, during that time, experienced increasingly serious post-traumatic stress stemming from his service in Iraq. After a while he became unable to work but was denied disability retirement benefits after a particularly unpleasant hearing process even though the VA had determined that he had a service-connected disability. 

    “My concern is that if we do not address this system and change it, it will not be long before we see the death of a veteran, who is so despondent after being grilled in a room about all of his PTSD triggers that he chooses to end the struggle once and for all,” said Couture. 

    After Scott lost his final appeal, Couture eventually connected with Rep. Seth Berry, who submitted LD 521. The measure would change the law so that, in future cases, a VA determination of a service-connected disability would automatically qualify a public employee for benefits.

    Rep. Seth Berry at home in Bowdoinham, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “No family should have to go through this,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “PTSD is a major issue that affects many Maine veterans. We need to come together and close this gap before anyone else falls through it.”

    The committee will schedule a work session on Berry’s bill in the coming days.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.  

  • Latest RGGI auction brings in over $1.5 million - $85 million to date for Maine

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine earned $1,555,662 in The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) 35th auction of carbon dioxide allowances. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and is viewed as a model for other regions.

     Since RGGI’s inception Maine has brought in $85,166,608.15 for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by the Baldacci administration.

    14,371,300 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $3.00. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.15 to $13.75 per allowance.

    The March 8th auction was the first auction of 2017, and generated $43.1 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions for all the 9 states participating exceed $2.68 billion dollars. 

    In Maine, the program first started when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had lawmakers introduce a bill. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House.

    “RGGI is still working and still helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation,” said State Representative Seth Berry, the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    With ocean acidification on the rise Maine’s lobstermen are worried and have become proponents of RGGI. “Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine,” said Richard Nelson a lobster fisherman and member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group.

    “The reinvestment of these auction proceeds will help to build on the RGGI states’ track record of achieving emissions reductions together with economic growth,” said Katie Dykes, Chair of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.

    During Governor John Baldacci’s tenure his energy office developed a 50-year energy plan to help make the state energy independent. Many of the plans components of were implemented before Governor LePage took office, like becoming a member of RGGI.

    Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels while bringing clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants for weatherization of homes and to help new alternative energy innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine.

    “Year after year, RGGI delivers triple benefits—economic, social, and environmental,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.  “More than a decade ago our states chose to step up in the absence of federal action, and independent reports have found significant payback as a result. RGGI is boosting state economies and lowering consumers’ energy bills while driving down carbon emissions and reducing the harmful health effects of fossil fuel pollution. The RGGI states continue to invest in the health of our communities while providing a clear market signal to power producers.”

     

     

    RGGI History — 

    The first pre-compliance RGGI auction took place in September 2008, and the program became effective on January 1, 2009. 

    In 2003, governors from Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont began discussions to develop a regional cap-and-trade program addressing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    On December 20, 2005, seven of those states announced an agreement to implement RGGI, as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Governor's of Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. The MOU, as amended, provides the outlines of RGGI. New Jersey is the only state to opt-out of the program under Governor Christie’s leadership, missing out on millions of revenues.

  • Republican Health Care Plan Will Cost Older Americans, Uninsured, Women More

    By Ramona du Houx

    The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which has provided thousands of Mainers will access to affordable, high quality health care, is a shame and will cost older Americans, the uninsured and woman more.
     
    “The Affordable Care Act has saved thousands of Mainers from losing their lives or going bankrupt simply because they got sick. Republicans have had seven years to come up with an alternative health care plan that preserves the progress we've made under the ACA —one that would not take us back to a time when only those who had employer-sponsored insurance or a clean bill of health could get coverage," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

    "But after all of this time, they’ve come up with a plan that will cost older Americans up to five times more, charge the uninsured 30 percent more to buy coverage, defund Planned Parenthood, cut Medicaid significantly, and still has no price tag. I look forward to an open debate on this proposal and expect my Republican colleagues not to forget the millions of Americans for whom the Affordable Care Act has been a lifesaver, including thousands in Maine who’ve shared their stories with me.”
     
    In January, Congresswoman Pingree asked her constituents to share their ACA stories and within a few days more than 1,000 were submitted. Please take a look at the vedios here.

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Let’s take up Rachel Carson’s challenge

    Human evolution shows that our emotions such as fear, anger and sadness should not rule us if we want to maintain the ties that are critical to our survival. 

    By Martha Freeman of Portland, a former Maine state planning director for eight years in the Baldacci administration and the editor of “Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964.”

    Rachel Carson was a friend of mine, although she died when I was only 11 years old.

    If you’re not a baby boomer or older, you may not know her name. You may not know that she was a best-selling author in the 1950s and 1960s, or that her work as a scientist and writer led to the nationwide banning of DDT and the beginning of the environmental movement.

    Recently, the Public Broadcasting System’s “American Experience” aired a film about Rachel Carson’s life and work. If you view it, you’ll learn that the most important revolution she engaged in involved more than stopping pollution by pesticides. She was as concerned with halting heedless interference with interrelationships in the natural world, including those among humans. She was concerned about government’s relationship with the public, businesses’ responsibility toward consumers, the contamination of human discourse by falsehood. Sound familiar from the headlines, posts and tweets of today?

    Rachel Carson came into my life when she built a summer place near my grandparents’ cottage on the Maine coast. She and my grandmother became dear friends. As a youngster, I was along for parts of their journey. As an adult, through reading the letters to each other these friends saved, Rachel Carson became closer to me.

    I saw, as she did, that the web of human relations, embedded in human nature, is as crucial to our world’s well-being as any other set of environmental links. To pollute that web is as toxic as pouring poison into a river.

    And that web is being fouled today. Self-righteousness, the outlook of might making right, grandiosity in the face of humbling challenges are ascendant. These responses took root in the soil of economic turmoil and human dislocations.

    It’s natural for people to fear unsettling change. We’re as motivated by our biology as any plant or animal experiencing a threat. Our brains wire us to feel fear, anger, and sadness as we cope. But it’s stupid, and human evolution shows this, for those emotions to rule when we’re challenged.

    Modern humans best overcome threats when deploying empathy, whether toward allies or adversaries. If you can’t put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes, you’re missing out on rational and emotional intelligence. It’s intelligence that forms coalitions in the home, at work, across all forms of human relations and leads to progress.

    Brittle and brute tactics are not a mature, or ultimately successful, response to human problems. These approaches may appear to bring success in the short term. Using them may generate feelings of slights vindicated. But in their wake, the whole of which we each are a part will eventually wither. The long term will not be healthful for our children and other living things.

    Having empathy, valuing the intricate web of human relationships, is not the stance of cowards. It’s the essence of courage. Rachel Carson faced disparagement from private enterprise, media and public officials. A gentle and petite woman, she stood with backbone against detractors, employing her most effective tools: facts, understanding, caring, calmness.

    In 1962, in one of her last public presentations before her death, Rachel Carson spoke at the Scripps College commencement. Her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” had just been published. She continued its theme of environmental interdependence in her remarks, but broadened the context:

    “Your generation must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and a sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and mastery — not of nature but of itself.”

    It’s time to take up Rachel Carson’s challenge again.

    We must reward mature behavior and remove our attention from immature distractions, as mothers do when their kids are acting out. We must expand our circles of affection, as young people have done. We must prove the masters of our fear, anger and any anxious interest in belittling others.

    Humans naturally advance in community. Our sense of community evolves. As it has, life has become better for the human family. Only a short-sighted, impulsive and immature perspective seeks to break rather than strengthen our bonds.

    As Rachel Carson taught, everything in nature is interrelated and interdependent — including all of us. As we care for our environment, so must we care for all humankind. It’s a fact that we can’t escape being on this earth together.

  • Maine Democrats try and address opioid crisis within supplemental budget

    On February 24th, members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted unanimously in favor of LD 302, "An Act To Make Supplemental Appropriations and Allocations for the Expenditures of State Government and To Change Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2017." This bill will now proceed to the full legislature for a vote.  

    After a push from democratic leaders, specifically an amendment offered by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the supplemental budget bill now contains nearly $5 million in state and federal funds to provide opioid addiction treatment to Mainers most in need of help — the uninsured and those with low incomes.

    “Drug addiction strikes without prejudice and is affecting every community in our state. Overdose deaths are happening in our cities, our small towns and our rural communities,” said Sen. Breen. “We have to work together to address this crisis. I’m pleased to see bipartisan support for expanded treatment, and I’m hopeful we can continue to work together to save Mainers’ lives.”

    This $29 million dollar spending package also contains:

    • $7.1 million in funding to keep tuition low at the University of Maine,
    • $7 million to the Maine Military Authority in Aroostook county, and
    • $4.8 million to rehabilitate fish hatcheries in our Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Department.

    Additionally, the package moves $35 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. 

    “The problems we need to solve are bigger than this supplemental budget, but I am heartened that we are moving forward with a unanimous vote from this committee,” said House Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, Rep. Drew Gattine. “We will remain steadfast in our focus on long term solutions that strengthen middle class families, schools, and seniors, while growing good paying jobs and a strong economy.” 

  • Prescribers can play a bigger role in fighting addiction

     Editorial by Representative Colleen Madigan.

    Drug addiction is becoming Maine’s disease. Individuals may use but together our families, communities and economy all suffer.

    For too long Maine hasn’t been able to stop the drug crisis. It’s time we used everything we have to prevent addiction before it starts and effectively treat it before it claims the life of even one more Mainer.

    As a social worker, I’ve seen the toll substance addiction takes on people and their families.

    Community members, who as parents run businesses, work long hours and help each other out struggle to find treatment for an addiction that started with a legitimate prescription.

    Maine has the tools it needs to implement smart fixes that will stop the drug crisis in its tracks.

    Strengthening law enforcement to identify and prevent trafficking and funding prevention in schools are two ways we can stop the drug crisis from getting worse, but that should be only part of the solution.

    Research shows that addiction results in changes to the brain. Counseling with medication can help Mainers struggling with substance abuse to confront and gradually kick their cravings for opiates.

    Suboxone also known as Buprenorphine can give people a second chance.

    The problem? Suboxone is still hard to come by because Maine has too few trained providers who can afford to administer it.

    That means Mainers trying to get treatment for addiction have to resort to buying Suboxone off the streets.

    I once worked with a woman who served members of our community at a local pizza joint. She was given a prescription for chronic pain relief and became addicted to pain killers. After six months, she still can’t access a Suboxone provider.

    She’s not alone.

    I also worked with a Waterville father who got addicted to heroin after being unable to continue using prescription drugs. He found a Suboxone provider hours away but struggled to get there.

    Maine’s rural communities need more providers who can help people access counseling and medication assisted treatment to combat opiate addiction.

    This week I’ll present a bill to make sure physicians who prescribe opiate medications also have to be able to prescribe Suboxone.

    If you can prescribe addictive opiates to treat pain, you should be able to prescribe medication to help treat an addiction to those opiates.

    "An Act To Increase the Number of Suboxone Prescribers" also bumps up the reimbursement rate to make sure providers in rural areas can afford to proscribe Suboxone.

    This bill is one tool in our toolbox and I hope lawmakers will support it, but we can also learn from what other states are doing to identify other innovative solutions.

    Vermont for example has significantly reduced its prescription drug and heroin addiction statewide by expanding access to multiple forms of treatment and prevention, including medication assisted treatment and counseling. They’ve also focused intently on targeted solutions for rural areas that are often epicenters for growing substance abuse.

    This session Democrats will work to identify more solutions to the drug crisis using every resource Maine has to offer. 

    By recognizing addiction for what it is - a disease and a public health crisis - and treating it with smart, diverse approaches, we can help combat substance abuse addiction in Maine.

  • Legislation in Maine could help keep children out of harms way of led in water

    By Ramona du Houx

    Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Environment Maine launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign in February of 2017.  

    An analysis by Environment Maine Research and Policy Center gave Maine a grade of F to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. The Maine Public Health Association, Prevent Harm, and State Senator Rebecca Millett all joined Environment Maine in calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in Maine’s schools and daycares.

    “Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but state is failing/not doing enough to protect our kids from lead in drinking water said Laura Dorle “Kids’ developing brains are especially susceptible to highly toxic lead so it’s time to get the lead out.”

    As more Maine schools test their water, they are finding lead.  For example, last year officials in the Yarmouth School District found lead levels above the EPA’s standard of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

    Yet a new report Get the Lead Out: by Environment Maine Research and Policy Center shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  For example, the report cites new data from Massachusetts, where half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school.

    “Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Rebecca Boulos of the Maine Public Health Association.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

    All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.   In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. 

    Unfortunately, current state law does far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.  Maine law only requires testing of water at schools that draw their water from non-public sources and does not require remediation.  In Environment Maine Research and Policy Center’s comparison of 16 states, these shortcomings gave Maine a GRADE OF F.

    “We were disappointed to find that Maine’s efforts are a GRADE at the back of the class for protecting children from lead at school.  Our kids deserve better,” said Environment Maine Research and Policy Center’s Laura Dorle.

    LD 40: An Act to Strengthen Requirements for Water Testing in Schools, introduced by State Senator Rebecca Millett, who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough would help to change that by starting a system that would require all schools are rigorously testing for this issue.

    ““All families deserve to know that the drinking water at their children’s schools is safe,” said Sen. Millett. “We cannot have a strong set of standards for some schools and a lesser standard for others. Lead poisoning can have disastrous effects on children, and it is our responsibility to protect all of them, regardless of where they live. We have got to do better than that.  We owe it to our kids.”

    These efforts have wide support including from environmental health advocacy group Prevent Harm, Toxics Action Center, the Maine Academy of Pediatrics, the Maine Public Health Association, and more.   Parents are especially eager to see the bill move.

    (PHOTO: press conference at the state house about LD 40)

    “Do we really want to wait for more tests to show that our kids have been drinking lead?” asked Gretchen Migliaccio, UMaine Augusta student and parent whose daughter attends Laura E. Richards Elementary School in Gardiner.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

    Parents in other states are demanding action too.  Environment Maine’s counterparts are working with doctors and parents and community leaders in seven other states to advance policies that Get the Lead Out of schools and daycares.

  • Maine urged to take stronger action against power plant pollution with RGGI

    On February 8, 2017, representatives of nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic met to discuss taking stronger action to cut global warming pollution. These states, part of a regional program that limits pollution from power plants called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,(RGGI) are preparing to make a decision about how much to cut pollution from 2020 to 2030.

    Across the region, RGGI states have cut power plant pollution in half since 2005, and RGGI states have generated more than $2.5 billion for clean energy investment.

    To date RGGI has brought in $83,612,946.15 to the state of Maine for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by Governor John Baldacci. 

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

    In January, 2017, NASA announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for our planet, breaking records last set in 2015 and 2014. We know global warming is happening and we know that we are the cause.

    Maine is already beginning to experience more extreme weather events and sea levels along New England and the mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than every other region of coast.

    "There’s never been a more urgent time to talk about cutting pollution. So we are glad to see Maine updating the best regional clean air and climate program in America – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," said Emma Rotner, Campaign Organizer with Environment Maine.

    RGGI cleans the air and improves health outcomes-

    A new analysis last month showed that over its first 6 years, the program saved 600 lives, averted 9,000 asthma attacks, and prevented 260,000 days where people would have had to restrict daily activities, such as exercise, due to air pollution.

    RGGI helps accelerate our country transition away from dirty fuels and toward clean energy.

    "We make power plant owners pay for every ton of pollution they emit. That is driving a lot of great clean energy projects in our communities. For example, from 2013-2015 Efficiency Maine used $25 million to create more energy efficient homes and businesses, drastically cutting down on energy costs (http://www.nrcm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/RGGI4pagerFINAL.pdf). However, we can and must do more," said Rotner.

    "Over the next three months, we have a chance to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Doing so would cut pollution faster, help us live longer and healthier lives, speed our transition to clean energy and strengthen our economy.

    "With leadership unlikely to come from Washington DC, states must show the way forward.

    "We urge Governor LePage to keep Maine leading the charge on climate. We should double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to cut pollution in half again by 2030 and invest more in energy efficiency, wind and solar power. Together we can build a renewable energy future, and deliver clean air and a safe, healthy climate for us all.”

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • She worked for everyone in Maine and now Lennie needs us to help with her cancer

    Lennie's Medical Fund - GoFundMe 

    My mother, Lennie Mullen, has devoted her life to public service in Maine.  Sadly, she was diagnosed with anal and colon cancer in April of 2016.  The radiation and chemo she received in Maine appears to have put the anal cancer in remission.  Unfortunately, the colon cancer has metastasized.

    In order to take care of my mom I had to move her to San Diego to live with me.  She had to make the hard decision to leave all her friends and family and move.  

    She is presently receiving treatment at Scripp's Cancer Center.  She has undergone so much radiation.  I tease her that she likes to go there so much because the doctor and staff are wonderful.  Chemo has been really hard on her.  We still have not found that "coctail" that is going to work long term.  Mom develops small tumors throughout her body, and a couple in her lungs.  The radiation is helping, but the main goal is to stop anymore from developing.  I lost count at over 20. We are encouraged with the treatment and she has a very positive attitude--refers to treatment as a journey.
    Below is a link that talks about immunotherapy for anyone interested in learning more.
    https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy.html 
    (On Feb, 8 PBS aired a new article on immunotherapy see it HERE. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/cancer-immunotherapy-life-saving-powers-limits/
    There is hope.)

    The money raised will allow us more options with her medical treatment. 

    Mom's professional life has been devoted to helping people. 

    She served as a constituent service advocate for a United States Congressman, and later for the Governor of Maine. She has always been there to help others, and her family.  She does not realize how all her small contributions have left such a large impact on the lives of everyone she helped. 

    I know that any small contribution to help her now, will have a large impact on her recovery. 

    When you loose your job, for whatever the reason, you need to find value in your life.  Mom needs to find her strength and value from the Cancer that has taken over her body.  She needs to be able to go the beach, visit family when she is stronger, and treat herself to going to an estate sale.  She can not do any of these things without my financial help.  She wants to be able to buy groceries or pay for her perscriptions. Her limited income does not allow for any of this.  

    She is now facing her toughest challenge.  Cancer treatment is costly even with insurance.  The co-pays, supplements, insurance premium, medical supplies not covered by insurance, and eating healthy food has created a financial hardship that hopefully GoFundMe can assist.  Could you help?

    Help spread the word!
  • Mayors send letter to Congress demanding ACA provisions are kept

    By Ramona du Houx

    The nation’s mayors on January 17, 2017 at The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) 85th winter meeting in Washington, D.C.  spoke out to stress the serious impact that losing healthcare coverage, with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have on millions of Americans.

    Following conference more than 300 mayors, sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to keep in mind the protections The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided to innumerable Americans from the catastrophic cost of illness and accidents.

    Many economists have stated that they believe a recession would be trigered if the ACA is repealed without being replaced by the same measures in the ACA.

    The letter cited the ACA provisions that enjoy bipartisan support and should be retained.

    Bangor's Mayor Joe Baldacci has signed onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors Letter on Protecting Healthcare.

    Baldacci believes healthcare is a human right. "The ACA has helped health clinics throughout Maine, provided new avenues for people to get healthcare coverage and has been a major component in funding for mental health patients and opioid addiction victims. While the state never accepted the increase in Medicaid funding, which would have given thousands more healthcare coverage, the ACA is providing critical care to countless Mainers, and needs protection. Everyone should have a right to healthcare coverage," said Baldacci.

    Mayors from small cities to large metropolises signed on to the letter pact.

    “In New York City, 1.6 million people stand to lose health coverage. That’s mothers and children and grandparents who won’t be able to afford to see the doctor for the most basic forms of health care. That is unacceptable. As cities, we must work together to be the first line of defense and to make it clear to Congress: we will not stand idly by in the face of injustice,” said Mayor de Blasio,

    The letter mayors from around the country will send to Reps. and Senators in Congress:


    Dear Leaders: 

    On behalf of United States Conference of Mayors, we urge Congress to take into consideration the effect that the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) will have on our nation's cities large and small, urban and rural. 

    As Mayors, we share a responsibility for the health and well-being of our communities, which includes ensuring access to comprehensive and affordable health care. Millions of Americans have gained insurance under the ACA, and the law has been instrumental in bringing about insurance reforms from which we all benefit. It is imperative that we preserve this progress. 

    The ACA has improved the lives of many Americans and shouldn't be tossed out without careful consideration of the effect. Repealing the ACA would deny desperately needed access to care to individuals and families; place an undue burden on our local hospitals; and, would rescind safeguards for patients currently suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses. 

    Moreover, there are important provisions of the ACA which have bipartisan support, are working well, and should be retained including:

    • Insuring children up to the age of 26;
    • Eliminating lifetime and annual limits;
    • Assuring eligibility for insurance coverage even with pre-existing conditions;
    • Guaranteeing coverage for pregnancy and breast cancer screenings; and,
    • Providing coverage for preventive services at no additional cost

    Further, Mayors support the provisions in the ACA, which have increased mental health and substance use disorder benefits and provided parity. Mayors, also, oppose efforts to convert Medicaid to block grants. 

    The effects of repealing the ACA will be felt most heavily at the local level. It is our cities and counties that will see increases in indigent care costs for our hospitals, in uninsured rates and uncompensated care costs; and it is our low and moderate income residents who will return to a time of having to choose between health care and everyday living expenses, like groceries. 

    As Mayors representing millions of citizens, we are united in urging you to build upon, not tear down, the progress that has been made to our healthcare system and to ensure that none of the 20 million newly covered individuals is left without health care coverage. 

    Original Signatories 

    Mick Cornett 
    Mayor of Oklahoma City
    President 

    Mitchell J. Landrieu 
    Mayor of New Orleans
    Vice President 

    Stephen K. Benjamin 
    Mayor of Columbia, SC
    2nd Vice President 

    Martin J. Walsh
    Mayor of Boston 
    Chair, Children, Health and Human Services Committee 

    Bill de Blasio 
    Mayor of New York City 
    Chair, Cities of Opportunity Task Force 

    Edwin M. Lee 
    Mayor of San Francisco 

    John Giles
    Mayor of Mesa

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Maine small business owners call on Sen. Collins to protect ACA after her vote for repeal

     

    On January 12, 2017 at the headquarters of Zootility Tools, a Portland-based manufacturer, Maine small business owners shared their stories why they support the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At the press conference they and called on the state’s congressional delegation, especially Senator Susan Collins, to reject efforts by President-elect Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law.

    “There are stories here from small business owners across Maine who couldn’t afford to provide their families with affordable health care before the ACA and can now,” said Will Ikard, head of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “Our representatives are always talking about how they want to help small businesses. Preserving the core of the ACA is a great way to do it.”

    Businesses across Maine depend on their employees being able to get affordable health care and through the ACA.

    “Repealing the Affordable Care Act would mean sicker employees, resulting in more work absences, higher health costs, and lower productivity for small business owners like me,” said Nate Barr, owner of Zootility, whose 20 employees rely on the ACA. “I am asking Senator Collins to do right by the people of Maine and block attempts at repeal.”

    The Maine Small Business Coalition presented over two hundred letters to Senator Collins from small business owners across the state asking her to stand by keeping the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare.

    Hundreds of Maine business owners depend on the ACA for their own healthcare.

    “I can say without a doubt that my family and I are only able to afford decent health care coverage because of the subsidies built into the ACA,” said Cathy Walsh, owner of Arabica Coffee in Portland.

    The event comes after a 51-48 vote by the Senate last night, at 1:30 am, to begin the process of repealing the ACA. Maine's Senators split their votes with Senator Collins casting a yes vote for repeal and Senator King casting a vote against.

    Sen. Angus King said the move “will have disastrous consequences for tens of thousands of people in Maine and millions more across the country.”

    Senator Collins has publicly stated that any repeal of the health care law should coincide with an immediate replacement policy that would continue to provide health care for individuals currently covered by the law. So, there is hope she might not vote for the final repeal if the measure circles around again to the senate, and the Republicans don't have a plan to replace the ACA.

     According to analysis by the Commonwealth Fund and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities 95,000 Mainers lose their health care coverage if the ACA is repealed. Taking away the ACA would also take away the jobs of 13,000 Mainers and would take $565 million out of Maine’s economy in 2019 alone.

    “Loss of all of that economic activity and all of those jobs would mean less money being spent at local small business like mine,” said Barr.

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • What Bangor, Maine is doing to ease the state's deadly drug epidemic



    Editorial by Joseph M. Baldacci, former Mayor of Bangor now serves on the Bangor City Council
     
    According to the Maine attorney general’s office, 272 Mainers died of drug overdoses in 2015, a 30 percent increase over 2014. This year, we are easily surpassing those figures. On average, one Mainer dies each and every day from a drug overdose.
    In our own community, the fire department has seen use of Narcan — a nasal spray that can save someone from death by overdose — skyrocket in the last five years, from 15 uses of it in 2011 to 57 uses in 2015 to at least 100 uses on suspected overdoses just through Nov. 30, 2016. This spring, the Bangor City Council authorized the police department to also carry Narcan, and, as of Dec. 1, the police department has saved 16 lives with it. In 2015, the Bangor Police Department identified 66 cases as involving a possible overdose. So far this year, we are at 111 cases.
    We are fortunate and thankful to the men and women working as firefighters, paramedics and police officers. They are some of the real heroes of this effort to save lives.
    This is not a political issue, it is a human issue requiring human responses. It is an issue that requires state and national leadership — neither of which we have. Local communities are now forced to handle it with everything we have to save and protect citizens.
    Story continues below advertisement.
    Since 2014, Bangor has been in partnership with the Community Health Leadership Board as well as the hospitals and other nonprofits to better marshall local resources.
    The essential thing is that all of us act constructively and rationally in this effort. Because we have done this, we have made progress. Here’s where:
    Adult drug treatment court
    In 2012, the state closed the drug treatment court in Bangor that helped monitor on a weekly basis dozens of drug offenders as well as assist in their getting treatment. After a successful effort by both the City Council and state legislative delegation, the program has been reinstated, and it will be able to monitor and provide treatment options to at least 30 drug offenders at any one time.
    Law-Assisted Diversion Project
    The city is working on a jail diversion effort in partnership with the Health Equity Alliance. We also are working to fund a substance abuse case manager embedded in the police department. Both efforts will be coordinated with local hospitals and other providers to get nonviolent offenders treatment first, not jail first.
    Detoxification center
    The City Council has supported and sought the establishment of a 10-bed detox center to serve as a first stop for people who commit to recovery. Currently, the only places for people to detox are jail, home or the emergency room. None of those places are equipped to handle the complex needs of someone who is detoxing and establish a continuum of care for them when they leave detox.
    Regional model of continuum of care that increases rural access
    Acadia Hospital has taken the lead and has funding to enlist St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center providers in the provision of Suboxone — an alternative to methadone — in their primary care practice settings. This is currently in progress. Penobscot Community Health Care was awarded a federal grant to expand primary care medication-assisted treatment in its practices as did Health Access Network in Lincoln.
    Recovery
    The city has given strong support to Bangor Area Recovery Network efforts for its peer recovery coaching program. The city awarded funding for this important effort to help people stay clean.
    Early Recovery Treatment & Housing
    In conjunction with community partners, the city is involved in exploring several models to complete the continuum of care after someone is released from detox. We have reached out to the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative and may replicate some of its efforts here. Penquis is our lead partner on this work.
    I am proud of the work of my fellow councilors, along with a hard-working staff that works collaboratively to involve all community partners and has resulted in dozens if not hundreds of saved lives.
  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Legalize it? Why not? — Marijuana is not as scary as you think

     

    Op-ed by Rachel Andreasen

    Every Maine voter will see on the ballot: Question #1, legalize, regulate and tax Marijuana.

    In a recent press release, Maine’s Governor Paul LePage stated that Question one is, ‘not just bad for Maine, but it’s deadly.’ He has made claims that people addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin. He goes on to say that the legalization in Colorado has caused an increase in significant traffic deaths, but according to Drug Policy Alliance marijuana has not had an evident influence on traffic deaths. Mr. Lepage ends his video by encouraging voters to research and educate themselves on this dangerous issue.

    Thank you, Paul LePage I have educated myself on this ‘dangerous issue.’ It’s amazing to me how yet again we have a governor that doesn’t get it. By criminalizing marijuana we are doing far more damage by keeping it illegal.

    Question One is not as dangerous as you think, it reads: ‘Do you want to allow the possession and use of Marijuana under state law by persons who are 21 years of age, allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of Marijuana and marijuana products subject to tax regulation, taxation, and local ordinance?’

    If this passes it means you will be allowed to use marijuana if you are over the age of 21, you will be authorized 2.5 ounces of marijuana. It will also mean the State has power over the regulation and the cultivation. Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will regulate the industry. They will issue licenses for retail stores.

    In Colorado legalizing Marijuana has produced $500 million in tax revenue. It has led to fewer marijuana arrests, about 46 percent. In Maine we are one of the poorest states in the country, we are third in the nation for being food insecure. We can use this income to fund some of our services, such as detox centers, education, and health services.

    We spend more money on the War on Drugs. According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, there were 2,842 marijuana possession arrests in Maine in 2010 accounting for 47.9 percent of all drug arrests.’ The report further estimates that just in 2010 the State spent 8.8 million on marijuana possession enforcement. Nationally, it was a 3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession in 2010 alone.

    Not only are we spending a lot of state money on criminalizing marijuana, but many studies have shown and President Obama has said that marijuana is, ‘not more dangerous than alcohol.’

    We are one out of 8 states looking to pass this bill in November. Despite having medical marijuana legalized since 1999, we are still behind on this issue. 

    I encourage you all to do your research on this matter and look over the costs and benefits of legalizing marijuana. I invite you to look at states that have legalized like Colorado, Alaska, D.C, and Washington and see how this has changed their policies. If the State has managed to legalize alcohol, I believe Maine will do an excellent job of regulating marijuana.

  • Campaign Launched in Maine to Expand Access To Health Care Coverage

    A broad coalition, on October 12, 2016, launched a citizens’ initiative campaign to expand access to health care for tens of thousands of Mainers.

    The campaign will begin collecting signatures to place a question on the November 2018ballot that would allow Maine to accept federal funds to provide health coverage through the expansion of MaineCare. 

    “Five times, Republicans, Democrats and independents have come together to do the right thing in the Legislature, but the governor has prevented its progress each time,” said Dr. Chuck Radis of Portland, a citizen sponsor of the initiative. “If lawmakers in Augusta can’t get it done, we will be left with no choice but to take our case to Maine voters. Making sure more people have access to health care coverage is too important to wait any longer. We can’t allow one person to stand in the way of making Maine healthier and our economy stronger.”

    Accepting federal funds would provide health coverage to about 70,000 low-income Mainers, most who work, including 3,000 veterans and at least 20,000 working parents with children living at home. 

    If successful, the initiative would ensure that affordable health care is available to families earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, which is about $27,821 for a family of three. 

    Accepting the dollars set aside for Maine would also restore affordable coverage for the 40,000 people in Maine who lost health care coverage when Maine opted not to accept these federal funds.   

    “I go to work everyday to earn a living and to support my family, but I still can’t afford health insurance,” said Kathy Phelps, a hairdresser from Waterville, who lost coverage. “I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I don’t expect anything for free. I work hard, but I can’t afford the cost of health insurance or health care. At 59, I still have six years to go before I qualify for Medicare. This initiative could save my life.”

    Accepting federal funds to expand MaineCare coverage is a good deal for Maine. The federal government would pay most of the cost of coverage for newly eligible people (95-93 percent of the cost through 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond). 

    The initiative also would bring nearly $470 million in new federal funds to our state and create more than 3,000 good paying jobs, while saving the state budget an estimated $27 million a year.

    “MaineCare provides access to health care that many Mainers, including veterans who would otherwise be unable to get insurance,” said Tom Ptacek, the veteran’s health care outreach community organizer at Preble Street. “Accepting federal dollars to expand MaineCare will help our state fight addiction, keep people in their homes and make it possible for them to work.” 

    Thirty-two states, including the District of Columbia, have accepted federal funds to provide health care to people with low-incomes. Maine is the only state in New England that has not expanded access to health care. 

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation studied 11 states that accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid programs and concluded that states “consistently show that expansion generates savings and revenue which can be used to finance other state spending priorities or to offset much, if not all, of the state costs of expansion.”

    The report cited the many benefits of expanding Medicaid including reduced state spending on programs serving the uninsured and broader benefits, including job growth, deep reductions in state uninsured rates and related decreases in hospital uncompensated care costs.

    To place a question on the 2018 ballot, the coalition will need to collect at least 61,123 signatures.

  • Heiwa Organic Tofu opens In Rockport, Maine


    By Ramona du Houx

    Heiwa Tofu is celebrating its new food production facility at 201 West Street, Rockport, Maine with a grand opening party on Friday, October 7, 2016 between 2:00 and 8: 00 pm. There will be a tour of Heiwa’s new tofu making operation, festivities and games. Locally made refreshments will be provided.

    Owners Jeff Wolovitz and Maho Hisakawa purchased the building in April, renovated the space to optimize production of their small batch, handcrafted, organic tofu and began operations in late June.  

    “This investment in our own production facility is a milestone for Heiwa,” said Wolovitz. “We have much more control over our business and greater opportunity for growth.”  

    Heiwa recently hired two more employees to help with production and keep pace with growing demand.

    Heiwa’s sales have doubled in the last 18 months.

    According to Wolovitz, consumers who are interested in nutritious, protein-rich alternatives to meat seem to be discovering the versatility of tofu.

     “Our customers can’t seem to get enough of our tofu and some even admit they never liked tofu until they tried Heiwa," said Wolovitz, who also suggested that it’s a combination of the creamy texture, delicious taste and freshness that make Heiwa a favorite of tofu connoisseurs.

    An added bonus for many customers is that Heiwa uses mostly Maine grown organic, non-GMO soybeans to produce their tofu, buying all soybeans available from both local farms and dedicated soybean growers. 

    Wolovitz and Hisakawa view a locally grown, plant based diet as a way to a more peaceful planet.

     “Heiwa - pronounced Hey wah - means peace in Japanese and we have come to think of Heiwa Tofu as Peace on a Plate.” said Hisakawa.

    Jeff and Maho launched Heiwa eight years ago in a converted garage space behind the Knox Mill in Camden, Maine. While the couple and their two young daughters, Ami and Ina, continue to sell the family’s prized tofu directly to customers at the local farmer’s market.(photo below)

    Heiwa is available today in 200 restaurants, natural food stores, colleges and universities throughout Maine, parts of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and a little bit beyond.

     

  • Trump would repeal 'Obamacare' and 20 million would lose health coverage

    BY RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR--ASSOCIATED PRESS

     A new study that examines some major health care proposals from the presidential candidates finds that Donald Trump would cause about 20 million to lose coverage while Hillary Clinton would provide coverage for an additional 9 million people.

    The 2016 presidential campaign has brought voters to a crossroads on health care yet again. The U.S. uninsured rate stands at a historically low 8.6 percent, mainly because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which expanded government and private coverage. Yet it’s uncertain if the nation’s newest social program will survive the election.

    Republican candidate Trump would repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with a new tax deduction, insurance market changes, and a Medicaid overhaul. Democrat Clinton would increase financial assistance for people with private insurance and expand government coverage as well.

    The two approaches would have starkly different results, according to the Commonwealth Fund study released Friday.

    The analysis was carried out by the RAND Corporation, a global research organization that uses computer simulation to test the potential effects of health care proposals. Although the New York-based Commonwealth Fund is nonpartisan, it generally supports the goals of increased coverage and access to health care.

    Economist Sara Collins, who heads the Commonwealth Fund’s work on coverage and access, said RAND basically found that Trump’s replacement plan isn’t robust enough to make up for the insurance losses from repealing the Affordable Care Act. “Certainly it doesn’t fully offset the effects of repeal,” Collins said.

    One worrisome finding is that the number of uninsured people in fair or poor health could triple under Trump. It would rise from an estimated 2.1 million people under current laws to between 5.7 million and 7.1 million under Trump’s approach, depending on which of his policy proposals was analyzed.

    When uninsured people wind up in the hospital, the cost of their treatment gets shifted to others, including state and federal taxpayers. Trump has said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.”

    The study panned one of Trump’s main ideas: allowing insurers to sell private policies across state lines. Collins said insurers would cherry-pick the healthiest customers and steer them to skimpy plans. Other experts don’t see it as bleakly, believing that interstate policies could attract customers through lower premiums.

    A prominent Republican expert who reviewed the study for The Associated Press questioned some of its assumptions, but said the overall conclusion seems to be on target. “You could quibble about some of the modeling, but directionally I think it’s right,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a center-right public policy center.

    Collins said the analysis examined some major proposals from each candidate, but did not test every idea.

    The Trump proposals included repealing the Obama health care law, as well as a host of replacement ideas consisting of a new income tax deduction for health insurance, allowing policies to be sold across state lines, and turning the Medicaid program for low-income people into a block grant, which would mean limiting federal costs.

    The study estimated that Trump’s repeal of “Obamacare” would increase the number of uninsured people from 24.9 million to 44.6 million in 2018. But then his replacement proposals would have a push-pull effect. The tax deduction and interstate health insurance sales would help some stay covered, but the Medicaid block grant would make even more people uninsured.

    “The people who would actually gain coverage tend to have higher incomes,” said Collins.

    The result would be an estimated 45.1 million uninsured people in 2018 under Trump – an increase of 20.2 million, reversing the coverage gains under Obama.

    The Clinton proposals analyzed included a new tax credit for deductibles and copayments not covered by insurance, a richer formula for health law subsidies, a fix for the law’s “family glitch” that can deny subsidies to some dependents, and a new government-sponsored “public option” health plan.

    Taken together, the analysis estimated that Clinton’s proposals would reduce the number of uninsured people in 2018 to 15.8 million, which translates to a gain of 9.1 million people with coverage. Not included were Clinton’s idea for allowing middle-aged adults to buy into Medicare and her plan to convince more states to expand Medicaid.

    Collins said the researchers will update their estimates for both campaigns as more details become available.

    The health care report follows another recent analysis that delved into the candidates’ tax proposals. That study by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s latest tax proposals would increase federal debt by $5.3 trillion over the next decade, compared with $200 billion if Clinton’s ideas were enacted. The Trump campaign disputed those findings.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Maine State Senate Democrats earn great marks for pro-environment votes

    Photos - Ramona du Houx

    Democratic members of the Maine Senate showed their commitment to Maine’s environment and natural resources with their voices and their votes during the 2016 legislative session, according to a scorecard released this week by Maine Conservation Voters.

    This year, nearly all the Senate Democrats earned perfect scores for their voting records.

    “Our natural resources and the industries they support are a linchpin of our economy, and one of the main drivers of Mainers’ high quality of life,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, of Portland. “I’m proud of Democrats’ record on conservation, clean energy, clean water and clean air.”

    Democrats in the Senate defended the Land for Maine’s Future conservation program from Gov. Paul LePage’s attacks, and supported Maine’s solar energy industry and the creation of green jobs. They stood up for the environment and for taxpayers by rejecting new mining rules that put both at risk. They protected critical energy efficiency programs for home and business owners when Republicans tried to exploit a clerical error to slash approved funding.

    And they supported the creation of a new national monument, along with all the environmental benefits and economic opportunities that come with it.

    “Our votes represent our devotion to the bright future promised by clean energy and good stewardship of our environment,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill, of York. “As legislators, it’s our duty to ensure responsible policy not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of generations to come.”

    Democratic Senators who earned perfect scores include Alfond and Hill, as well as Sens. Cathy Breen of Falmouth, Susan Deschambault of Biddeford, David Dutremble of Biddeford, Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, Geoff Gratwick of Bangor, Anne Haskell of Portland, Chris Johnson of Somerville, Nate Libby of Lewiston, Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, Dave Miramant of Camden, John Patrick of Rumford and Linda Valentino of Saco.

    “We are grateful to the senators who voted to release voter-approved conservation bonds; to expand solar power and good paying solar jobs; and against the governor's unconstitutional bill to prevent the creation of national monuments,” said Beth Ahearn, political director for Maine Conservation Voters. “We need more leaders like them in the Senate in order to prevent the governor's attacks on conservation from succeeding."

  • Infants at risk because of LePage's DHHS outsourced contract

     

    Sen. Breen and Sen. Haskell: Seemingly unnecessary sole-source contract is troubling

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Senate Democrats are asking questions about why Governor Paul LePage’s administration gave control of a critical state program for infants to a third-party without a competitive bidding process and without availing itself of the checks and balances built in to the state procurement protocol.

    A report in August 11th Bangor Daily News described how the administration had “quietly handed off financial oversight” of Maine Families, a $23 million program that provides home visitations to new parents. By working with parents, home visitors have successfully reduced abuse and neglect and improved health for thousands of infants and families.  

    The report said the contract was awarded after “a closed decision-making process, the state’s questionable justification to avoid competitive bidding, and limited communication about the transfer of a multimillion-dollar state program to the nonprofit sector.”

    “The administration has always said the competitive bidding process makes state contractors more accountable and protects taxpayer dollars. I agree, which is why I’m at a loss for why this contract was handled behind closed doors and without seeking bids,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. “The Legislature needs to take a look at state procurement rules. We need to know that transparency and accountability are baked into the process.”

    Maine Families had been administered by a collection of groups across the state for years, with financial oversight maintained by the state. However, in April, LePage and his Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner, Mary Mayhew, signed away the program without a competitive bid or public input. The deal was also made without consultation with the state Attorney General -- a procedural safeguard in the procurement process -- thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. LePage making that safeguard “optional.”

    The report described how even board members of Maine Children’s Trust, the nonprofit awarded the sole-source contract, had questions and misgivings about the scope of its new work, the process by which it was awarded, and the effect it could have on the board’s independent advocacy for Maine children.

    “Sole-source contracts are a necessary part of government in the case of an emergency, but I can’t for the life of me see what caused the urgent need for the state to give up its role in ensuring this program’s success,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. “The facts presented in this report are troubling. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I would welcome an explanation from the administration.”

  • More Maine kids would go hungry under LePage plan to shut down food stamp program

    Editorial by Rep. Scott Hamann (D) of South Portland 

     Here’s a sobering truth. Since Governor Paul LePage took office, extreme child poverty has spiked faster in Maine than anywhere else in the United States.

    I serve on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. 

    For years, we’ve seen evidence that Maine is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to the well-being of our children. A new report confirms this.

    The Kids Count report shows that more Maine kids are growing up poor – some of them extremely poor, as in $12,000 or less per year for a family of four. The latest figures show that 19 percent of Maine children are living in these conditions.

    The implications are huge for our youth and for the success of our state as a whole. We need policies that give Maine kids a decent shot at success and that help families climb out of poverty. 

    But the governor chooses to attack the poor rather than poverty itself.

    Here’s one of the latest, troubling examples.

    The governor is at odds with the federal government over SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – commonly known as food stamps. The governor, like a good number of people, doesn’t want food stamps to cover junk food, but that decision rests solely with the federal government.

    So, what does the governor want to do?

    He’d shut down Maine’s SNAP program completely, eliminating all emergency food assistance for 200,000 Mainers. These are mothers, fathers, young children, veterans, senior citizens and people with disabilities who reply on SNAP to eat and stay healthy. 

    I agree that SNAP should be spent on nutritious foods and beverages. No argument here. But shutting down the entire program does nothing to help families escape poverty and hunger.

    Consider that on the governor’s watch, more than 60,000 Maine children battle food insecurity and that Maine has the highest rates of both child and senior hunger in New England.

    Yet his solution to hunger is more hunger?

    Instead of attacking the poor, let’s attack poverty – together.

    We need to approach food insecurity as the public health crisis that it is. We need to recognize that it’s far less expensive to make sure that people have access to proper nutrition than to pay for avoidable, diet-related health care costs down the road.

    Here’s a real solution: make healthy food more accessible to all families.

    We’ve got ways to do this. There are federal programs available to help low-income households purchase fruit and vegetable, farmers throughout the state eager to feed their neighbors in need. And we have education programs that teach food-insecure Mainers how to make healthy food choices on a budget.

    It’s time for solutions. Let’s bring together experts from the public and private sectors and work together to strengthen SNAP without hurting Mainers.

  • The University of New England to get $2.5M for rural community health partnership

    The University of New England, in Maine, has been awarded a $2.5 million federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to partner with Penobscot Community Health Care. The grant, spread out over five-years, will boost the primary care workforce in rural and underserved Maine communities.

    Approximately 225 UNE students — 160 medical, 25 physician assistant and 70 pharmacy students — will receive interprofessional, team-based training at Penobscot Community Health Care. The training will focus on developing skills needed for community health outreach, including social determinants of health, oral health knowledge, health literacy and shared decision making with patients.

    "As Maine's largest educator of health professionals, UNE holds national and international reputations for teaching comprehensive, team-based care, also known as interprofessional education," Dora Anne Mills, UNE's vice president for Clinical Affairs, director of the Center for Excellence in Health Innovation and the grant's principal investigator and chief author, said in a statement. "These funds will equip both today's and tomorrow's health care providers with team-based skills as well as other tools needed to engage effectively with patients and populations to improve health."

  • LePage won't join 46 other governors to sign the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction

    Governor’s refusal reflects his administration’s lack of commitment to treatment

    Governor Paul LePage is refusing to sign the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction developed by the National Governors Association. The 46 governors who signed the compact are agreeing to redouble their efforts combatting the opioid through a number of ways, including ensuring pathways to recovery.

    LePage's outbursts concerning people who suffer from opioid addiction reflect his policies. He clearly doesn't think their lives matter.

    “Forty-six other governors understand that we need a comprehensive approach to beat the opioid crisis sweeping our country. While other governors from across the political spectrum pledged themselves to this goal, Governor LePage belittles this effort,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Instead of getting serious about this epidemic, Governor LePage, aided by Commissioner Mary Mayhew, continues to scorn the lifesaving potential of the overdose-reversal medication naloxone, makes it harder to access medication-assisted treatment, threatens to shut down methadone clinics and stands in the way of treatment options that the Legislature has approved and funded. He’s got to understand that the lives of real Mainers are hanging in the balance. This is no way to lead.” 

    Other conservative governors, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, signed the compact.

    LePage and Mayhew have opposed strategies in the compact, which include increased access to naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan), Good Samaritan laws that encourage individuals to call for help when someone is overdosing and expanded treatment options. They have also dragged their heels on the detox center that the Legislature put into law this session. A nonprofit addiction treatment facility in Sanford said its closure was due to the LePage administration’s lack of funding support.

    Roughly 78 Americans lose their lives to the opioid epidemic each day, according to the National Governors Association. In Maine, fatal opioid overdoses kill five people each week, according to figures from the Office of the Maine Attorney General.