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Health in Maine
  • 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.

  • LePage threatens to stop food stamps for over 200,000 Mainers

    Part of LePage's letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

    By Ramona du Houx

    Just when you think Gov. Paul LePage can’t stoop any lower with his attacks on working people that need food stamps (SNAP) to augment their minimum wage salaries, he pulled this. LePage wants to abolish Maine’s food stamp program, which is funded by the United States Federal Government, by ending the state's administration of the program. 

    "We are literally talking about taking the food off the table of Maine families struggling to make ends meet," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "SNAP is a program funded by the federal government but the law is clear—it's up to the states to run it.  If Maine were to pull out of SNAP, then Maine people would not have access to it. Families that depend on SNAP—seniors, children, veterans—would go hungry.  This is not how we treat each other in Maine."

    LePage wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack informing him that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to restrict food stamps from being used to purchase sugary foods and drinks, he’ll do it anyway or withdraw from the food stamp program altogether.

    “It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” wrote LePage. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reforms unilaterally or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether.”

    According to Bennett, the state asked the federal government for a waiver so it could create a pilot program that wouldn’t allow food stamps to be used for the purchase of “junk food.” That waiver request was denied.

    “This latest temper tantrum threatens to punish the very people it purports to help. I’d ask the governor this: How does taking food off the tables of hungry Maine families support healthy eating habits?” said Sen. Justin Alfond.

     “The governor is free to pick as many political fights with the federal government, the Legislature and other perceived rivals as he wants. But he shouldn’t use real Maine families, dealing with real hunger, as props in his political theater."

    Approximately 200,000 Mainers receive food stamps, down from a high of more than 250,000 in 2012.

    “Threatening to eliminate this vital program scares seniors and other SNAP recipients who, undoubtedly, are some of the most at-risk individuals in the state of Maine,” stated Amy Gallant, AARP Maine Advocacy Director.

    Maine seniors are disproportionately impacted by limited access to adequate nutrition. Feeding America, a nationwide non-profit network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, predicts a 50% increase in the number of seniors facing hunger in Maine by 2025. The sharpest increase in food insecurity is found among older Mainers living just above the poverty line. Many have a disability, live alone, are divorced, or unemployed.

    The number of Maine seniors who rely on the Food Supplement Program increased statewide by 32% in the past five years. Nearly 70% of older Mainers who are eligible for SNAP are not currently enrolled. “Older Mainers are reluctant to utilize this program because of stigma,” said Gallant.  “Political rhetoric such as threatening to eliminate the program pushes people away. Mainers are proud and independent people, and find it hard enough to ask for help when times get tough. That’s why so many Maine seniors who could benefit from SNAP do not apply.”

    SNAP continues to be the primary and best defense against hunger. If SNAP were to be reduced or eliminated in Maine, the already long wait list for Meals on Wheels would drastically and unsustainably increase.  Food pantries would not be able to meet the increasing need in their communities. “Mainers would be forced to choose between food, fuel, medicine and other essential costs,” said Gallant, “Many seniors would simply go without.”

  • Last minute overrides of Gov.LePage vetoes give hope for public safety and well being of citizens

    By Ramona du Houx

    While the Solar energy bill that would have created over 600 jobs and helped Mainers save on their electricity bills failed to be overridden. Other important bills did meet the challenge standing up to Gov. LePage's veto pen.

    Notably, An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders, which was a bill that drew national attention because of Gov. LePage's outrageous comments concerning addicts. LePage basically said if someone overdoses they should die. The bill empowers the police to revive people who suffer from an overdose by using Naloxone Hydrochloride. Without police intervention many people who overdose would die. It's important to say, a lot of these citizens are everyday people caught in the recent up turn of drug addiction because drug companies have been promoting the use of prescription drugs which have often led to heroin addictions.

    “With their votes today, Maine lawmakers declared that we must seize every opportunity to prevent overdose deaths,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor. “The opioid epidemic in our state is claiming the lives of five Mainers every week and inflicting heartache on countless others. We know that putting naloxone in more hands saves lives. Our actions can make all the difference for Mainers struggling with addiction.”

    An Act To Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions also survived by a large bi-partisan margin. This bill will help Dorethea Dix mental hospital in Bangor and Riverview in Augusta. Both have undergone LePage administration cuts. Riverview failed to meet federal standards and was fined by the US government.

    Also, An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program survived. The law continues an important transparency program, so that the public can have a watchman-an ombudsman-looking our for long term care in Maine. The list, with unofficial tallies, of April 29th's over-ride session are below:

    VETO LETTER DATE

    LD #

    TITLE

    SPONSOR

    HOUSE

    SENATE

    OVERRIDEN/SUSTAINED

    4/27/2016

    690

    An Act To Ensure the Safety of Home Birth

    Volk

    127-17

    28-7

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1253

    An Act To Improve the Evaluation of Public Schools

    Bates

    112-31

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1472

    Resolve, To Enhance the Administration of the Child and Adult Care Food Program by Creating Clear Guidelines for Organizations and Streamlining the Application Process

    Alfond

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1481

    An Act To Protect Maine's Natural Resources Jobs by Exempting from Sales Tax Petroleum Products Used in Commercial Farming, Fishing and Forestry

    Davis

    4/27/2016

    1489

    An Act To Clarify Expenditures Regarding Androscoggin County

    Rotundo

    87-61

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1629

    An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund

    Hickman (introducer)

    90-58

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1645

    An Act To Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions

    Katz

    116-25

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1649

    An Act To Modernize Maine's Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development

    Dion (introducer)

    93-50

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1675

    Resolve, To Create the Task Force on Public-private Partnerships To Support Public Education

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    137-12

    30-4

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1689

    An Act To Protect Children in the State from Possible Sexual, Physical and Emotional Abuse by Persons Who Have Been Convicted of Crimes

    Maker

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1552

    An Act To Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Injected Drugs

    Vachon

    108-40

    25-9

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    365

    An Act To Provide a Tax Reduction for Modifications To Make a Home More Accessible for a Person with a Disability

    Verow

    148-0

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    419

    An Act To Promote Academic Opportunities for Maine Youth during Summer Months

    Pierce, T

    93-56

    Sustained

    4/26/2016

    1514

    An Act To Conform Maine Law to the Requirements of the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation

    Sirocki

    141-7

    20-14

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1279

    An Act To Authorize Advance Deposit Wagering for Horse Racing

    Picchiotti

    120-29

    23-11

    overridden

    4/25/2016

    1521

    An Act To Create Equity among Essential Nonprofit Health Care Providers in Relation to the Sales Tax

    Gattine

    139-10

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1579

    An Act Regarding the Maine Clean Election Fund

    Rotundo

    84-63

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1465

    An Act To Require the State To Adequately Pay for Emergency Medical Services

    Lajoie

    139-10

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1498

    An Act To Clarify Medicaid Managed Care Ombudsman Services

    Vachon

    118-28

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1696

    Resolve, To Establish a Moratorium on Rate Changes Related to Rule Chapter 101: MaineCare Benefits Manual, Sections 13, 17, 28 and 65

    HHS Committee Majority

    102-45

    28-6

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    867

    An Act To Provide Tax Fairness and To Lower Medical Expenses for Patients under the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act

    Libby

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    655

    Resolve, To Study the Feasibility of a State Firefighter Training Facility

    Lajoie

    93-55

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1692

    An Act To Amend and Clarify the Laws Governing the Brunswick Naval Air Station Job Increment Financing Fund

    Gerzofsky

    85-62

    26-9

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1617

    An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program

    Brakey

    34-1

    129-18

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1614

    Resolve, To Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund

    Rosen

    148-0

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1224

    An Act To Amend the Child Protective Services Laws

    Malaby

    147-1

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    654

    An Act To Expand the 1998 Special Retirement Plan To Include Detectives in the Office of the Attorney General

    Nadeau

    96-53

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1394

    An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    95-52

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1398

    An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses

    Mason

    110-38

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1468

    An Act To Improve the Safety of Ferries in the State

    Miramant

    113-32

    35-0

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1540

    An Act To Protect All Students in Elementary or Secondary Schools from Sexual Assault by School Officials

    Cyrway

    140-6

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1547

    An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders

    Gideon

    132-14

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1686

    An Act To Amend the Finance Authority of Maine Act

    Volk

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

     

  • On last day, Maine lawmakers override veto of bill to protect social workers

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    ON the last day of the Maine Legislature, lawmakers were able to overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would help ensure the safety of Maine social workers by prohibiting the publication of their home addresses. The vote was 105-43 in the House and 30-3 in the Senate.

    “This is a matter of safety,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, the sponsor of the bill. “We need to ensure that our social workers are protected from retaliation if they are dealing with a disgruntled employee or client. There is no reason for a person’s private information to be listed publicly on a state website.”

    Goode submitted the legislation after a Vermont social worker was shot and killed by a woman who was upset about losing custody of her child.

    A similar incident occurred in Maine in 1988 when a disgruntled administrator of a home for people with mental illness obtained the names and addresses of state licensing officials. After he was fired, the individual shot and critically injured then-Department of Health and Human Services licensing administrator Louis Dorogi in the kitchen of his Topsham home.

    “This bill was a bipartisan effort by the Judiciary Committee,” said Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, House chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “We worked hard to come to a consensus that would ensure that social workers were protected while honoring the public’s right to know.”

    Goode’s bill, LD 1499, improves the safety and privacy of social workers who hold a license from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The change ensures that the home address of a social worker is confidential and not open to the public. The social work profession is predominantly female.

    “There are times on the job when we face unhappy clients,” said Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, a retired social worker and member of the Judiciary Committee. “This concern for safety poses challenges to the personal lives of social workers if their home addresses are made available over the internet.”

    The Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to the “Right to Know” Advisory Committee asking them to look at making home addresses private for other professions as well.

    The legislation becomes law 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session.

    Goode is House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and a social worker. He is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Bangor.

    Hobbins House chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and is in his eighth non-consecutive term in the House. He has also served five terms in the Senate.

    McCreight is in her first term in the Maine House and represents Harpswell, West Bath and part of Brunswick. She serves on both the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and Marine Resources Committee.

  • Maine Senate passes GOP-led Medicaid expansion bill

    The Maine Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to a Republican-sponsored bill to accept federal dollars to expand access affordable health care for low-income Mainers.

    The bill was approved 18-17, with three Republicans joining all 15 Democrats in supporting the bill. Those Republicans were Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton; Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta; and Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro.

    LD 633, sponsored by Sen. Saviello, would draw down major increases in federal funding to provide health insurance to nearly 80,000 Mainers. The bill would lead to influx of more than $2 billion in federal funding over the next five years, and is estimated to create 3,000 jobs.

    The bill utilizes Medicaid to provide coverage to the poorest Mainers, and private health insurance to expand access to affordable health care for other low-income residents. It requires eligible enrollees to contribute to the cost of their care, and helps unemployed Mainers find jobs. If the federal government reneges on its pledge to cover the vast majority of the cost, the bill sunsets.

    “Sen. Saviello has done his homework,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This bill is different than any we’ve seen. Its various pieces are drawn from the best examples of success in other states. By taking the best there is to offer, this bill provides a responsible path forward for health care for the entire state.”

    All newly enrolled Mainers would be required to contribute to the cost of their health coverage. Those covered by Medicaid would have to pay copayments up to the level allowed by the federal government, while those enrolled through the marketplace would be required to pay up to 5 percent of their incomes for premiums, copayments and deductibles. The bill also includes provisions to connect newly covered unemployed Mainers to job referrals through the Department of Labor.

    If enacted, the bill would see Maine join 31 other states that have accepted available federal health care funds to support health care. Notably, other states have seen tremendous savings to their correctional systems by providing coverage for addiction and mental health treatment. LD 633 has the endorsement of the Maine Police Chiefs and Maine Sheriffs associations.

    “This money will provide budget relief to our communities, where criminal justice and correctional systems have become de facto drug treatment and mental health care centers for the uninsured,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. “States like Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Washington are all seeing millions of dollars in savings to their criminal justice and corrections system. Like them, Maine can better provide for our criminal justice and health care systems if we pass this bill.”

    The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate.

  • Gov. LePage's refusal to accept federal medicaid funds is stressing the state’s healthcare system

    Op Ed by Mark Biscone, chief executive officer of Pen Bay Medical Center,, Waldo County General Hospital and their related practices and operations
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016
    In Maine, organizations such as Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital do not exist to make a profit, and that’s a good thing for our patients. That nonprofit status enables us to put patients first, providing high quality care to everyone who walks through our doors, regardless of ability to pay.

    But as any leader in the nonprofit world will tell you, having a mission that goes beyond an operating margin does not absolve an organization from the need to be solvent. We wouldn’t be of much use to our patients if we didn’t make ends meet.

    Unfortunately for our hospitals here on the coast and for Maine’s other hospitals, we live in a world of shrinking resources, and that makes meeting our nonprofit mission more difficult every day.

    At both our hospitals and in our physician practices, we provide millions of dollars of free care every year to people who lack insurance. We don’t do this passively. When we can, we help those patients who qualify to sign up for health insurance on the federal Exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

    But there is a large group of very low-income patients —many of whom have significant health care needs such as mental illness, diabetes and drug use disorder — whose incomes are too low to qualify for subsidies on the Exchange. Unfortunately, in Maine they also don’t qualify for federal Medicaid coverage, known as MaineCare.

    This is stressing our healthcare system, and it wasn’t supposed to be that way. When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, its financing model was based on key factors:

    • Hospitals would contribute financially through reductions in Medicare and in payments the federal government made to help with charitable care. In turn, hospitals would realize increased revenues as uninsured patients gained coverage through the Exchange and expanded Medicaid.

    By 2021, the parent organization that oversees our two hospitals will have contributed more than $26 million to fund expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Those reductions in federal payments to the hospital were to be offset by $12 million in new insurance revenue, of which $4 million was supposed to be derived from Medicaid expansion. But so far, the state of Maine has refused to expand Medicaid here.

    As a result, we are providing more free care than ever — $ 5.8 million in last year alone. 

    These costs are weighing heavily on our bottom line, as we seek to break even and meet our mission. This scenario is not sustainable for our region or for Maine’s economy. 

    In Maine, hospitals are being forced to pay twice: Once to the federal government through Medicare payment reductions and once as we absorb the increased cost of free care provided to those who might otherwise qualify for Medicaid. We keep hearing how much Medicaid expansion would cost Maine, but it is time to talk about how much the failure to expand Medicaid is costing Maine’s non-profit hospitals and the communities they serve.

    In the current Maine Legislative Session there is a group of lawmakers, led by Republican Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton, who understand that turning down hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding each year to eventually save tens of millions of dollars in a state budget that tops $3 billion annually is a huge mistake.

    Senator Saviello’s bill, LD 633, is a thoughtful approach that would expand Medicaid to Maine’s neediest while also providing coverage for the working poor through private insurance coverage and by requiring those individuals to be accountable for covering a portion of their costs. 

    The recently released fiscal note on that bill shows this legislation would cost the state $93.1 million over three years — an amount equal to about 1 percent of state expenditures over that period. In that time, the federal government would pump nearly $1.2 billion into the state. That money would ripple through the state’s economy in the form of increased employment in the healthcare sector as well as savings on private insurance premiums.

    A number of responsible legislators have opposed similar bills in the past out of fears that Washington could change the funding equation. However, in Medicaid’s 50-year existence, the federal government has reduced Medicaid funding only once, temporarily, in the early 1980s. Since that time, federal Medicaid funding has been increased nationwide in both 2003-2004 and 2007-2009 during recessions.  

    Maine is fortunate to have its not-for-profit hospitals. They have served as providers of last resort for more than a century, assuring that no one is turned away when they are sick and in need of care. But this system is being squeezed, and our communities are paying the price as mistrust of Washington trumps simple math and economic fact in Augusta.

    Op-ed first appeared in the Free Press

  • Attorney General Mills calls for federal rule change to add methadone clinics to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program oversight

    Cross Building where Maine's AG offices are located. photo by Ramona du Houx

    Attorney General Janet T. Mills is calling on the federal government to close a loophole that keeps methadone clinics from reporting their dispensing data to state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs).  Closing the gap will allow prescribers to avoid dispensing opioids to people who are also receiving treatment for opioid addiction.

    PDMPs are statewide programs that collect patient-specific data on various controlled prescription medications, like highly addictive opioids, enabling prescribers, pharmacists, and regulatory boards to access this information.  These programs are valuable tools to improve patient safety and health outcomes.  PDMPs aid in the care of patients with chronic conditions and help identify persons engaged in high-risk behavior, such as doctor shopping and prescription forgery, indicating possible abuse of or dependence on controlled substances.

    “Maine is considering legislation that would require prescribers and pharmacists to check the database when prescribing or dispensing prescriptions for controlled substances,” said Attorney General Mills.  “The current federal rule blocking methadone clinics from participating in the PDMP is a dangerous barrier preventing medical professionals from accessing their patients’ full medical history.” 

    In the bipartisan letter signed by 33 state Attorneys General the chief legal officers called on HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to address the gap by revising the proposed Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulation to require methadone clinics to submit their dispensing data to state PDMPs.  PDMPs already require strict confidentiality and may only be accessed by authorized users.

    “Requiring methadone clinics to register and use the PDMP will reduce diversion, misuse and abuse of opioids and enable individuals with substance abuse disorders to receive comprehensive, safe and more effective treatment for their disorder. This will save lives,” stated Mills.

    The letter, coauthored by Maine Attorney General Mills and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, was submitted as a comment to Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records, 81 Federal Register 6988 (February 9, 2016).  Attorney General Mills expressed appreciation to Attorney General Olens, all of the co-sponsors and to the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence for their assistance in addressing this issue.

  • Maine Senate endorses Sen. Alfond’s bill to streamline anti-hunger program

     The Maine Senate on April 7, 2016 gave initial approval to a bill that would expand access to food for hungry children and seniors by improving and simplifying a federal program’s needlessly complex application and moving the application process online.

    The Senate passed the bill 29-6 in a preliminary vote.

    The bill, LD 1472, would improve administration in Maine of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP,  which provides funding so that home daycares, adult day cares, child care centers, emergency shelters and at-risk afterschool programs can provide nutritious meals. It is one of several proven anti-hunger programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “We need to do everything we can to ensure Mainers have access to healthy, nutritious food,” said Sen. Alfond, D-Portland. “This bill will make it easier for qualified organizations to receive federal reimbursement for meals programs that feed hungry young people and our seniors. Fighting hunger is government work at its best, and I thank my colleagues for supporting this bill.”

    Navigating through the 40-page, multi-part application is unnecessarily complicated and confusing, especially for small providers such as daycares and after-school programs. More than $50 million in federal funding for anti-hunger programs through CACFP is sitting on the table because of low utilization by eligible providers in Maine.

    Roughly half of Maine’s K-12 students are “food insecure,” the federal term used to designate hunger. Maine ranks 12th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity, and is one of the few states in the country where hunger is growing.

    The bill now goes to the House.

  • Maine State Senate breathes new life into naloxone bill

      The Maine Senate has resuscitated a bill that expands access to the lifesaving drug naloxone hydrochloride, which can be successfully used to stop an opioid overdose in its tracks.

    Last week, the bill — LD 1547, “An Act to Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride — failed an enactment vote in the House, where it won majority support, but not the two-thirds support it needed to pass as an emergency measure.

    The Senate on Wednesday successfully passed the bill with a unanimous vote after stripping it of its emergency clause.  It now returns to the House, where it can be enacted with a simple majority vote.

    “You can’t treat people suffering with addiction if they’re not alive,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “We know that naloxone saves lives. If this bill prevents just one Mainer from losing their battle with substance use, it’s worth it.”

    The bill, sponsored by House Majority Whip Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, permits pharmacists to provide naloxone without a prescription to eligible individuals, including addicts’ family members and friends, who can respond to  an opiate overdose more quickly than emergency responders.

    That faster response time can be the difference between life and death.

     According to the Attorney General, 272 people died in Maine as the result of overdosing in 2015. That’s a 31 percent jump over the previous year.

     

  • Maine Democrats successfully block bill to put Riverview mental patients in prison

    Democrats in the Maine Senate on April 6, 2016 blocked a bill by Gov. Paul LePage that would allow the state to transfer mental health patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center to a super-maximum security prison, even if they had never been convicted of a crime.

    In a 17-18 vote, the 15 Senate Democrats were joined by three Senate Republicans -- Roger Katz of Augusta, Brian Langley of Ellsworth and David Woodsome of North Waterboro -- in blocking the bill.

    The bill would have allowed the state to transfer patients from Riverview to the Intensive Mental Health Unit, or IMHU, at the state prison in Warren. Instead, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill, which ensures patients in state custody will continue to receive the appropriate level of care, even if they are transferred from Riverview.

    “We agree with the governor that patients from Riverview need quality health care in a facility that provides hospital level of care,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Noncriminal patients do not belong in a prison but in a hospital where treatment is the priority.”

    Having been passed in the House earlier this week, the bill now faces final votes in both chambers.

    “The very idea that patients who have never been convicted of a crime would be put in a prison setting is appalling, and I’m thankful we were able to defeat this bill,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “Instead, we passed a responsible bill that recognizes the sometimes dangerous environment at Riverview while respecting patients’ rights.”

    As amended, LD 1577 requires forensic patients in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services to be cared for in facilities that provide hospital level of care. Forensic patients are those who are determined by the court to be incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible.

    The measure requires DHHS to place patients in state-owned hospitals that provide the appropriate level of care, such as Dorothea Dix in Bangor. If that is not possible, the next choice would be another accredited hospital in Maine. Barring that, patients could be sent to an accredited hospital out of state.

    Last month, Dr. James Fine, the psychiatrist at the IMHU, told the committee that the unit is nothing like a hospital in that it is focused on behavior control and security. He also said that the intensive mental health unit can be dangerous, with a recent rape reported within the unit and potentially fatal fights.

    According to Fine and the Department of Corrections, if Riverview patients were brought to the IMHU, they would be kept in a unit that serves primarily inmates with a history of violent crime such as murder and rape. They would spend periods of the day subject to lockdown, have regular interactions with prison guards, be shackled during movement and be subject to other protocols meant to handle inmates at a maximum-security prison. Behavioral problems would be addressed with mace, shackles or other interventions typical of corrections facilities. The committee heard a graphic description of how inmates at the IMHU are sometimes forcibly “extracted” from their cells.

    During his appearance before the committee last month, LePage said that when he proposed the bill he believed that the IMHU provided the same level of care as a hospital. When he learned he was mistaken, he said that it ought to.

  • Bill to keep Maine's mental health services in place advances unanimously in the House

    By Ramona du Houx

    Committee addresses concerns of Mainers who faced sudden loss of crucial supports

     Mainers facing the sudden loss of crucial mental health services under new LePage administration rules cutting eligibility will have the time to find adequate replacement supports under a bipartisan bill crafted and unanimously supported by the Health and Human Services Committee. 

    The measure voted out April 6, 2016 keeps in place services that help Mainers with mental illness stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. The committee’s bill provides at least a 120-day transition period for each individual affected by the Department of Health and Human Services’ plan and, if alternative, adequate services are not available, 90-day extensions through June 30, 2017. 

    “The Mainers who spoke up about the harm they could suffer under the administration’s plan were loud and clear. They cannot withstand the immediate loss of vital supports without anything to replace them,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbook, the House chair of the committee. “We cannot allow the administration to make these cuts without providing a lifeline.”

    Hundreds of Mainers turned out last week to stand united against the LePage administration’s eligibility changes to Section 17 of the MaineCare rules. The plan limits automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses. 

    “This arrangement provides a soft landing for Mainers who may no longer be eligible for Section 17 services,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the committee. “By providing time to transition, and flexibility, we can ensure that no Mainer dealing with a mental health diagnosis is left without the help they need to leave stable lives.”

     The administration recently notified 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that they may lose services. The plan will be implemented Friday. 

    DHHS is telling affected Mainers they might be able to get care elsewhere while also planning rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its new “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but availability is limited and, in some areas, not an option at all.

    The administration categorizes the Section 17 eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.

  • Maine State Sen. Breen says mental health service cuts would devastate families — including her own

    Editorial by State Senator Cathy Breen, from Falmouth

    Gov. LePage’s Department of Health and Human Services recently announced its plan to make dramatic cuts to services for people living with mental illness. That announcement sent a shock wave to families of people who depend on those services to survive. 

    I could get into the weeds about the proposed changes in eligibility and funding for clients with mental illness. But instead, I want to talk about the catastrophic effect those changes could have on a family in my district. 

    In this case, that family is mine. 

    I have a 21-year-old daughter.  She is wonderful, intelligent, talented and generous. She also lives with child-onset schizophrenia. Her symptoms began when she was in the sixth grade. Over the past 10 years, she and our family have learned how to manage and live with this devastating illness. 

    But late last summer, my daughter suffered a profound relapse. She admitted herself into the psychiatric hospital in our area, and it took about 7 weeks of in-patient care to get her well enough to return home.  

    Since that time, she has gradually improved with the help of medication, therapy, and in-home daily living support. For seven hours a day, she receives support in our home and community. That support helps her live a stable life.  But her stability remains so precarious and fragile that she cannot be safely left alone.

    This Monday, she greeted me in the mudroom when I got home. Her support person had given her some big news: Because of the governor’s proposed cuts, her service provider was going to close. No more in-home support.

    The very next thing she said was: “I’m gonna wind up back in the hospital.”

    She was so certain that was true, and it made sense.  Because that’s exactly what happened last summer, when my daughter’s condition deteriorated rapidly during a gap in support services. By August, she had a cast of characters in her head who — every day, all day — threatened to kill her family if she didn’t get to the nearest overpass and throw herself onto Interstate 295.

     Ironically, under the governor’s proposed rule changes, my daughter remains eligible for services.  But her service provider is closing after 16 years because it can’t survive under DHHS’s new conditions.

    We will most likely face another gap in services.  And my daughter’s well-being, her ability to function on a daily basis, her safety, and even maybe her life, will be put in jeopardy.  The hard-earned progress she’s made will be unraveled.  And the cost of hospitalization will be astronomically higher than in-home supports.

    I can’t for the life of me understand why these cuts are necessary. But I do know that, for families like mine, they will be devastating.

    I’m calling on all of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to do what they can to prevent these needless cuts. We have the power to make sure people like my daughter aren’t abandoned by our public health system.

      

  • Hundreds stand against administration’s DHHS mental health service cuts in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Community supports help affected Mainers live in their homes, prevent hospitalization 

    Hundreds of Mainers turned out Friday to stand united against the LePage administration’s cuts to mental health services and testify to the harm that they and their families will suffer as a result.

    Tiffany Murchison of Bath told the Health and Human Services Committee how she developed agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder, causing her world to shrink until she could not even go outside to get her mail. With the support of a community support worker, she slowly arrived at where she is today, standing before the committee, a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a business owner. Under the proposed changes, she would not have been eligible for the services she credits with saving her life.

    “Mental illness does not require medical equipment such as a wheelchair; however community services are a mental health patient’s wheelchair. Like a wheelchair, community support allows mental health patients to live more independently,” Murchison testified.

    The crowd packed the committee room and required five additional overflow rooms. They were among the 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness who were recently notified that this month they may lose the services that help them stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services.

    The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to limit automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses.

    Sen. Cathy Breen testified about her 21-year-old daughter, who has been living child-onset schizophrenia since the sixth grade. She would remain eligible, but would lose critical services nonetheless because the changes are causing Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Services in Brunswick to close. Breen said her daughter is certain she will wind up back in the hospital if she loses the services.

    “How does she know that? Because that’s exactly what happened last summer,” said Breen, D-Falmouth. “Like many families in this bumpy transition from the child mental health system to the adult system, we had a gap in support services. She deteriorated rapidly, and by August, she had a cast of characters in her head who – every day, all day – threatened to kill her family if she didn’t get to the nearest overpass and throw herself onto Interstate 295.”

    The administration is imposing the cuts through eligibility changes to Section 17 of the state’s MaineCare rules. The administration categorizes the eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.

    “We cannot allow the administration to dismantle the supports that allows Mainers with mental illness to live independently and avoid institutionalization,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the committee. “DHHS is playing a shell game with people’s lives – cutting services here, reducing reimbursement rates for providers there and directing attention to other services that simply aren’t available for many Mainers.”

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs while also planning devastating rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but the program is so new that availability is extremely limited and, in some area, not an option at all.

    The committee will have the opportunity to propose legislation protecting people from these cuts. Any bill reported out by the committee ultimately will need approval from the full Legislature to go into effect.

    This is the second time in two months that Maine citizens have asked the Legislature to intervene because of the harm they would suffer under administration plans to cut support services for vulnerable Mainers.

    In February, the first petition effort ultimately led to a bill that would require legislative oversight for any changes to the services for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism. That bill, LD 1682, won final Senate approval April 1, 2016.

  • Bill to protect patients transferred from Riverview Mental Hospital clear hurdle in Maine House

    Ramona du Houx

    Measure ensures transfers are only to facilities that provide appropriate levels of care

    The Maine State House of Repersentatives on April 5, 2016 gave its initial approval to a bill ensuring that people with mental illness who require hospital care will continue to have that care in an appropriate setting if transferred from Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center. The vote was 81-66.

    As amended, LD 1577 requires patients needing hospital-level care who are determined incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible to be cared for in facilities that have been accredited to provide hospital level of care by the Joint Commission, an independent, nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies more than 21,000 health care organizations and programs.

    “We agree with the governor that patients from Riverview need quality health care in a facility that provides hospital level of care,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Noncriminal patients do not belong in a prison but in a hospital where treatment is the priority.”

    The measure requires the Department of Health and Human Services to place patients in state-owned hospitals that provide the appropriate level of care. If that is not possible, the next choice would be another accredited hospital in Maine. Barring that, patients could be sent to an accredited hospital out of state.

    The measure also requires DHHS to develop a plan for noncriminal patients who no longer need hospital-level care but do need to be at a secure facility. The department would be required to report every 90 days to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on its progress on the plan and the status of transferred patients.

    LD 1577 is a bill from Gov. Paul LePage. The original measure, now the minority report,

    proposed fixing the problems at Riverview by criminalizing mental illness and sending hospital patients to the Intensive Mental Health Unit, or IMHU, at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

    Last month, Dr. James Fine, the psychiatrist at the IMHU, told the committee that the

    unit is nothing like a hospital in that it is focused on behavior control and security. He also said that the intensive mental health unit can be dangerous, with a recent rape reported within the unit and potentially fatal fights.

    According to Fine and the Department of Corrections, if Riverview patients were brought to the IMHU, they would be kept in a unit that serves primarily inmates with a history of violent crime such as murder and rape. They would spend periods of the day subject to lockdown, have regular interactions with prison guards, be shackled during movement and be subject to other protocols meant to handle inmates at a maximum-security prison. Behavioral problems would be addressed with Tasers, pepper spray and other interventions typical of corrections facilities. The committee heard a graphic description of how inmates at the IMHU are sometimes forcibly “extracted” from their cells.

    During his appearance before the committee last month, LePage said that when he proposed the bill he believed that the IMHU provided the same level of care as a hospital. When he learned he was mistaken, he said that it ought to.

     

  • Maine Bill to increase access to child care earns initial House go ahead

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Measure to help parents work and children to succeed advances in party-line vote 

    Working families would have greater access to quality, affordable childcare under a bill that earned initial House approval Tuesday. The 82-65 vote fell largely along party lines.

    “At its core, this is an economic development issue. We can help more low-income parents work, strengthen Maine's economy and prepare the youngest Mainers to succeed throughout their lives,” said Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “We know that the investment in early childhood more than pays for itself, saving the state and taxpayers costs like special education down the line.”

    LD 1267 uses available federal funds to expand access to quality childcare. It does so by increasing the reimbursement rates to the 60th percentile of the market rate for providers who accept vouchers from working families. The federal government recommends that vouchers pay at the 75th percentile, which was where Maine was until a reduction a few years ago.

    Maine was on track to increase its rate from the 50th percentile to the 60th percentile. But the Department of Health and Human Services unexpectedly decided last month to retain the 50th percentile rate.

    The rate reduction shrank the number of providers accepting vouchers, limiting quality childcare options for low-income working families and their young children. Parents and childcare providers were caught by surprise. Some providers, include Head Start agencies, had built budgets for their businesses that assume the 60th percentile.  

    Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff of Investment in Early Childhood in Maine, by University of Maine economist Philip Trostel, found a 7.5 percent return on investment. It also found that high-quality preschool education for a low-income child saves taxpayers an average of $125,400 over the child’s lifetime – more than five times the initial investment.

    LD 1267 faces further action in the House and Senate.

  • Maine police chiefs want to expand MaineCare

    Extending health coverage can help mitigate the pain and suffering caused by addiction.

    The numbers are distressing: 272 drug overdose deaths in Maine — a 31 percent increase in 2015.

    We’ve seen the devastating consequences of addiction and unimaginable sadness that comes from telling a family about the unnecessary death of a loved one taken too soon from this world. We know treatment saves lives and health coverage is important in accessing treatment. We see coverage as a vital community-wide benefit that can prevent crime, violence and suffering, saving our criminal justice system resources, time, and money.

    Extending health coverage to people with low income, most who work but often can’t afford coverage, would help them access health care, including mental health and substance abuse services.

    ADDRESSES THE GAP

    The Maine Sheriffs’ and Maine Chiefs of Police Association support accepting the enhanced federal health care funds to provide low income Mainers who suffer from addiction or mental health illness with health care, including treatment. With the federal government picking up most of the costs, it’s the most affordable option we have to promptly address the gap in treatment many face.

    Drug and mental health treatment is necessary, if not critical, to reducing drug related crime in Maine. People are dying of the torrid epidemic of opioid and heroin addiction. Mainers across the state are struggling to rid themselves of this disease. While more are seeking treatment with the goal of living a useful and productive life free of addiction, many face barriers to accessing the treatment they need to turn their lives around. The result is a costly cycle in and out of jail and a drain on our criminal justice system.

    Sixty percent of Maine’s inmates suffer from substance abuse and 40 percent from some degree of mental illness. Jails have become de facto triage treatment centers. It is time to change the way we are doing things.

    Other states are using the federal health care funds to treat addiction and reduce drug related crime. They are seeing savings and success in reducing incarceration and reentry into the criminal justice system.

    State and county corrections departments across the country have launched health coverage enrollment programs as part of the discharge planning process. Over 64 programs were operating in jails, prisons, probation and parole systems last year, enrolling individuals during detention, incarceration, and during the release process. If we are serious about defeating this epidemic, we must use all available resources, including those from the federal government that other states have seen success with.

    Washington State uses the federal funds to provide treatment to people who have been involved in the criminal justice system – services previously funded with state-only tax dollars that helped to reduce arrests by 17-33 percent. Replacing state funds with federal funds has created savings for local law enforcement, jails, courts and state corrections agencies.

    States use the federal funds to pay for treatment provided through mental health and drug courts. Maine’ 2014 Annual Report on Adult Drug Treatment Courts confirms our drug courts offer a successful approach to the challenge of substance abuse and crime but are underutilized.

    COURTS CAN’T DO IT ALL

    Drug court funding is described as being uncertain, in spite of demonstrated cost avoidance and benefits and that without funding for treatment, adult drug courts cannot be sustained. Federal health care funds could help pay for these services.

    States are using the federal funds to pay for inpatient hospital services provided to inmates and seeing savings. Ohio saved $10.3 million in in 2014. Kentucky, Michigan, Colorado, Washington and Arkansas have booked millions in savings. We are struggling to pay for the costs of jails in Maine, while other states are finding solutions.

    Inmates suffering with substance abuse have a better chance of overcoming addiction and reducing their chances of re-offending if connected to treatment. The federal health care funds could be used to relieve jails of significant health-related expenses.

    Not long ago the legislature passed the anti-heroin/opioid bill that began to address this terrible problem. Many legislators said it was only a down payment on what it would take to effectively deal with the epidemic. We can take another significant step in ridding our state of this problem. By accepting the federal health care funds, we will improve access to treatment and care. In the end, this will save taxpayers money and save lives, for which we cannot measure in dollars and cents.

    Sheriff Joel A. Merry of Sagadahoc County is president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association. Chief Michael W. Field of the Bath Police Department is president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

  • Maine House stands its ground on Hickman bill establishing a right to food

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity

    The House on March 31, 2016 insisted on its previous approval of a bill to amend Maine’s Constitution to address the issues of food security and food self-sufficiency in Maine.

    Rep. Craig Hickman introduced the bill to establish a constitutional amendment declaring that every individual has a natural and unalienable right to food.

    “Food is life. When one in four children among us goes to bed hungry every night, we must do better,” said Hickman, D-Winthrop, House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “We cannot allow a single one of us to go hungry for a single day. Maine has all the natural resources and the hard-working, independent-spirited and resourceful people who will make a way out of no way. We will find and feed ourselves the food we want to eat.”

    The House gave initial approval to the bill March 29, 2016 with a vote of 97 to 45. The Senate voted Wednesday to reject the measure. The bill now goes back to the Senate.

    With more than 84,000 hungry children, Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “This bill is about freedom of choice, access to wholesome food, food self-sufficiency, freedom from hunger, individual responsibility and our basic fundamental right to work out our own nutrition regimen free from unnecessary interference,” said Hickman.

    Because the bill proposes to amend the Constitution, it needs two-thirds approval by the Legislature in order to send it to the people for a vote in the next statewide election.

    Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.  He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth.

  • “Right to try” bill earns initial approval in Maine House

    A bill to allow terminally ill patients the right to try experimental drugs earned initial approval from the Maine House Tuesday. The vote was 114-28.

    “In cases of terminal illness, I believe it should be the patient’s decision to explore using innovative treatments that are already in the approval pipeline,” said Rep. Tom Longstaff, D-Waterville, a former hospital chaplain who sponsored the measure. “It’s really about giving people the choice.”

    The bill, LD 180, would allow eligible terminally ill patients access to drugs that have completed the first phase of U.S. Food and Drug Administration clinical trials but have not yet been approved for general use.

    At the public hearing last year, the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers was among those supporting the bill.

    “We believe that when patients have run out of traditional options, if they wish to use experimental medicines, there can be two good outcomes,” said Susan Lamb, executive director of the organization. “The patient is at peace knowing they have tried all options, and it is possible that some of these treatments will lead to new discoveries in medicine that may prolong a person’s life or even make their end-of-life experience less uncomfortable.”

    The FDA currently has a process to allow dying individuals access to drugs that are still in clinical trials, but Longstaff’s measure would streamline the process by creating a mechanism to access these treatments directly for patients with six months or less to live.

    The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate

    Longstaff is serving his third term in the Maine House.  He is a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and represents part of Waterville. 

     

    -30-

  • 272 People died of a drug overdose in Maine in 2015 – 31 percent jump

    Maine has recorded another grim record due to drug overdose deaths.  272 people died in Maine in 2015 due to drug overdose, a 31% increase over 2014, which saw a record 208 overdose deaths.  The final analysis of drug overdose deaths exceeded initial estimates largely due to an increase in deaths caused by heroin and/or fentanyl in the second half of the year. 

    “These figures are shocking,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills.  “Maine averaged more than five drug deaths per week.  That is five families every week losing a loved one to drugs.  These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our neighbors, our friends.  I applaud the families who have come forward to share their stories about the struggles they have endured in watching a loved one succumb to addiction and the pain it has caused."

    In 2015, 157 deaths were caused by heroin and/or non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and 111 were caused by pharmaceutical opioids.  Overdose deaths in 2015 caused by illicit drugs exceeded overdose deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids for the first time, even though the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical opioids increased slightly as well.  Nearly all deaths were in combination with other intoxicants.

    "Behind every one of these deaths is a story that must be told as a warning to anyone who thinks opiates are a harmless party drug with no consequences. No one is immune from addiction.  No one is immune from overdose. No one is immune from death.  We must use every effort to intervene in these people’s lives before it is too late,” said Attorney General Mills. 

    Two-thirds of the decedents in 2015 from a drug overdose were men.  The ages of decedents ranged from 18 to 89, though most deaths were of those under the age of 60.  The average age of a decedent was 42 (the average age of a Maine resident is 43).

    While all counties recorded at least one overdose death, approximately 78% of the overdose deaths occurred in Maine’s five most populous counties, which account for 65% of Maine’s population.  Cumberland County recorded 32% (86) of the statewide total.  The City of Portland recorded 46 deaths, followed by Lewiston with 15 deaths and Bangor with 13 deaths.

    Comparing the 2014 and 2015 death rate per 100,000 of population for the five largest counties, Cumberland County's rate increased from 15.3 to 30.5, an increase of 100%, Kennebec County increased 65%, Penobscot County increased 30%, Androscoggin County increased 4%, and York County increased 3%. 

    In 2015 there were 107 deaths attributable to heroin; 94 of which included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  Of the 87 deaths attributable to fentanyl or acetyl fentanyl, 68 included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  There were 34 deaths in which cocaine was involved in 2015, up from 24 in 2014.

    “These death statistics are just one measure of Maine’s drug crisis,” said Attorney General Mills.  “More must be done to preserve lives and protect our communities from the negative effects that drug abuse has on us. Prevention, intervention, treatment and law enforcement all must play larger roles in stemming this deadly tide.”

     

    The drug overdose death analysis was conducted for the Attorney General, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Marcella Sorg, PhD, D-ABFA of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. 

  • Citizens’ initiative to regulate and tax marijuana does not qualify for ballot

    by Ramona du Houx

    The citizens’ initiative petition effort to legalize and tax marijuana does not have enough valid signatures of Maine voters to qualify for the 2016 ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed on March 2, 2016.

    Over 47 thousand petitions submitted were not valid. That's right, 47,000.

    The petitions for “An Act To Legalize Marijuana,” which was combined with a similar citizens’ initiative effort to legalize marijuana, had been in circulation since April 28, 2015. On Feb. 1, 2016, the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions received 20,671 petitions with 99,229 total signatures of those who support the initiative.

    Staff members at the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions have completed the process of certifying all of the petitions and have found a maximum of 51,543 valid signatures (subject to checking for duplicates), while 47,686 proved to be not valid. A minimum of 61,123 valid signatures from registered Maine voters is required in the citizens’ initiative process and the effort has failed to meet that threshold.

    According to the proposed bill summary, this legislation proposed to legalize the possession, purchase, growth and sale of marijuana to those who are at least 21 years of age, and tax its sale, among other provisions. Visithttp://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/index.html to view the proposed legislation in its entirety. 

  • LePage needs to release voter-approved bonds for senior housing

    Last week, the Maine State Housing Authority Board of Directors wrote a letter to Gov. Paul LePage, asking for guidance on when and if he would release voter-approved bonds for affordable senior housing passed by voters.

    “Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds,” Maine State Housing Authority Chairman Peter Anastos said.

    The seniors who would have received a safe, warm home and the 70 percent of voters who supported the bonds deserve an answer.

    With rising property taxes, high heating costs and big health care needs, many seniors are forced to give up their homes and move into assisted living facilities, nursing homes or into the homes of adult children or other relatives, who may be struggling to make ends meet themselves.

    And, while we’re already aware our seniors and our families need help, a new series of studies unearth alarming ways in which we’re falling behind.

    nationwide study by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire found that 40 percent of Maine’s seniors are low income or living in poverty, a percentage higher than our neighboring states of New Hampshire and Vermont.

    This is not the only study that reveals concerning trends for Maine. A recent government survey shows roughly 16 percent of Maine households don’t know where their next meal is coming from, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

    Compounding these problems is a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low-income older adults, which will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by Abt Associates.

    Our seniors face poverty, hunger and constantly rising costs in housing, transportation and food.

    They deserve better. Maine can do better.

    LePage’s 2015 budget attempted to slash funding for the Drugs for the Elderly program that helps 35,000 seniors pay for lifesaving medications.

    In addition, after legislative leaders, including me, crafted the Keep ME Home plan to help support our seniors and their independence, the governor vetoed a number of the bills passed, including important efforts to protect seniors from financial fraud and support caregivers to participate in the health care planning for their loved ones.

    Luckily, legislators came together to override these vetoes, and voters overwhelmingly endorsed our actions with the passage of our affordable senior housing bond at the polls in November.

    Despite the clear and broad support of the Legislature and Maine people, the governor has yet to release these funds. We hope the governor will stick to his word to support the elderly by releasing the bonds, which will help more Maine seniors live in their communities independently.

    Pope Francis once said, “a population that does not take care of the elderly and of children and the young has no future because it abuses both its memory and its promise.”

    While we have made some progress, there is more to be done. Lawmakers have before us meaningful opportunities to help Maine’s seniors supported by both parties in this legislative session.

    Legislators will continue to work on other proposals to help seniors stay in their homes — including increases in wages for direct care workers, funding the Home Weatherization and Repair for Seniors Home Fund and increasing access to transportation services for homebound seniors.

    These proposals and the pending $15 million in affordable housing bonds awaiting release by LePage are common-sense measures that continue our work supporting seniors in our state.

    It is time for all of Maine’s leaders, including LePage, to work together and start honoring Maine’s promise to its seniors and families.

    First published in the Bangor Daily News

  • Access to food for thousands of hungry Mainers at stake in State Sen. Alfond’s bill

    During a public hearing February 25, 2016 the Health and Human Services Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, presented a bill to streamline needless bureaucracy so that more hungry children and seniors can be provided nutritious meals.

    Modeled after successful reforms in states such as California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Tennessee, LD 1472 would improve the administration of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP,  in Maine by improving and simplifying the program’s complex application and moving the program’s administration online.

    CACFP provides funding so that home daycares, adult day cares, child care centers, emergency shelters and at-risk afterschool programs can provide nutritious meals. It is one of several proven anti-hunger programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “This is the most underutilized of all the federal programs aimed at preventing hunger,” said Sen. Alfond. “There’s more than $50 million sitting on the table to feed hungry Mainers. By streamlining the application and making it available online, we can maximize participation and reduce bureaucracy at the Department of Health and Human Services. “

    Currently, the application is forty pages long, and within those forty pages, there are six unique programs. Navigating through the application is unnecessarily complicated and confusing, especially for small providers such as day cares and after-school programs.

    Eligible providers have said the cumbersome application is so complicated that it deters them from participating in CACFP. Alisa Roman, nutrition director at Lewiston Public Schools, which is eligible for CACFP, said she has put applying for the program “on hold,” and described the numerous, repetitive application requirements.

    “More at-risk students and families can be served nutritious foods by making the paperwork less daunting,” Roman said.

    Roughly half of Maine’s K-12 students are “food insecure,” the federal term used to designate hunger. Maine ranks 12th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity, and is one of the few states in the country where hunger is growing.

    Representatives from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, the Lewiston Public Schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA of Waterville, Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, Maine Community Action Association, Maine HeadStart Directors Association, Maine Public Health Association and Maine Children’s Alliance all testified in favor of the bill. No one testified in opposition.

    The Health and Human Services Committee will hold a work session on LD 1472 on Tuesday, March 1.

  • Bill to Increase Access to Affordable Drug Addiction Treatment Advances


    Committee Vote Unanimous For Higher Reimbursement Rates

      Today, members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee voted unanimously in support of a bill to increase reimbursement rates for substance abuse treatment providers.


    “Methadone treatment is heavily researched and evidence based.  It gets people back on their feet, back to their families, and back to work,” said Speaker Eves (D-North Berwick).  “Providing more sufficient reimbursement to methadone providers will enable more Mainers to access life-saving treatment and regain their lives.” 

    LD 1473 “Resolve to Increase Access to Opiate Addiction Treatment in Maine” sponsored by Senator Woodsome (R-York) passed as amended.

    The report of the HHS Committee partially restores the MaineCare reimbursement rate paid to outpatient opioid treatment providers from $60 to $72 a week. The rate increase will sunset on June 30, 2017 pending a rate study to further analyze its effectiveness. The committee will then hear a report back by the end of December in that year.

    This proposal will lower the burden on treatment providers who will then be able to increase patient access and provide crucial individual and group counseling in addition to critical medication, including methadone.

    “This session alone, we have heard dozens of hours of testimony urging us to increase availability of drug treatment and support services,” said HHS House Chair Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook).  “Increased access to proven Methadone treatment will provide a vital tool to addressing the opioid crisis that has gripped our state.”

    LD 1473 now faces action in both the House and Senate.   

  • The Portland Recovery Community Center needs you

    The City of Portland’s Overdose Prevention Project, Portland Police Department, and Young People in Recovery are pleased to announce their collaboration to assist the Portland Recovery Community Center in providing services to individuals who are in/or seeking recovery.

    They are looking for individuals with an LCSW, LADC or any other independent license to provide no cost counseling to individuals seeking recovery services.

    The Portland Recovery Community Center is offering a safe, confidential place for individuals to seek treatment without a fee. The Portland Recovery Community Center, which opened its doors in January 2012, provides a safe, supported community recovery setting for approximately 3,400 individuals each month. For more information about the Portland Recovery Community Center or to view their calendar, please visit their website at www.portlandrecovery.org.

    For more information about Young People in Recovery, please visit their website at http://youngpeopleinrecovery.org/. 

    There is no greater time to help our community members in need than now. If you would like to be a part of this grass roots effort, please contact Steve Cotreau at the Portland Recovery Community Center at (207) 553-2575 or scotreau@masap.org or Bridget Rauscher at (207) 874-8798 or bridget.rauscher@portlandmaine.gov.

    The Mayor's Substance Abuse Disorder Subcommittee (note the new name) has also begun meeting regularly again, and will meet on the third Thursday of the even months. The next meeting is April 21. Time and location to be announced. 

  • Legislation would protect social workers from violent retaliation in Maine

    Maine State Rep. Adam Goode’s bill to ensure the safety of Maine social workers by prohibiting the publication of their home addresses earned support at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    “The goal of this legislation is to minimize the likelihood of social workers being exposed to harassment from disgruntled former clients,” said Goode, D-Bangor. “Having home addresses of social workers accessible on the licensing board’s website makes them more vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, loss of privacy and assault from an individual who may be emotionally unstable.”

    Goode submitted the legislation after a Vermont social worker was shot and killed by a woman who was upset about losing the custody of her child.

    A similar incident occurred in Maine in 1988 when a disgruntled administrator of a home for people with mental illness obtained the names and addresses of state licensing officials. After he was fired, the individual shot and critically injured then-Department of Health and Human Services licensing administrator Louis Dorogi in the kitchen of his Topsham home.

    Goode’s bill, LD 1499, seeks to improve the safety and privacy of social workers who hold a license from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The change would ensure that the home address of a social worker is confidential and not open to the public.

    April Tuner, a senior at the University of Maine studying social work, testified in favor of the legislation. 

    “For safety and privacy reasons, it is important that the home address of social workers not be made public,” said Turner. “As a mother, I am concerned that my family could be placed in danger because a client that I work with could obtain my home address. As a foster parent that concern grows even greater since I am expected to provide a safe home for a child that has already experienced trauma.”

    The National Association of Social Workers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also testified in support of the bill.

    “It is unfortunate, but true, that social workers practice in settings that are increasingly unpredictable or unsafe,” Goode said. “This had led to some social workers becoming permanently injured or losing their lives.”

    The committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks.

    Goode is House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and a social worker. He is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Bangor

  • Energy efficiency projects funded by RGGI save Maine hospitals thousands- so they can better serve communities

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center speaking. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor." 

    On February 16, 2016 leaders of major hospitals In Bangor, Aroostook County, and Mid-Coast Maine joined together with a top commercial building efficiency expert and the head of Maine’s leading environmental group to focus on the financial benefits of hospital energy efficiency improvements that have been funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

    “The record shows the value of RGGI to our hospitals, to our efficiency businesses, and our environment is enormous,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Today we can see the real-world energy efficiency improvements, made possible with RGGI funds, delivering major benefits to the state.” 

    The super-efficient cogeneration plant that served as a backdrop for today’s press conference reduces the amount of natural gas EMMC burns to heat its facility, as well as the amount of electricity they need to buy. RGGI has helped to fund this kind of equipment at locations around the state, including Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor.  Our most recent project alone is reducing our electrical costs by $89,000 annually, helping us to control health care costs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one example of how RGGI is benefiting Maine and Mainers.”

    The control room for an efficient boiler at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor demonstrated the importance of channeling RGGI funds to help hospitals and other commercial, industrial, and residential energy users invest in energy efficiency improvements. 

    “We believe that a healthy environment is critical to the health of our patients and families in our community,” said Helen McKinnon, RN, vice president, Support Services, Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Our partnerships with NRCM and Efficiency Maine have been critical to our success in enhancing our ongoing energy conservation and efficiency programs. Not only have these programs reduced our emissions and promoted a healthier environment, but they have decreased our energy costs and allowed us to focus more resources on direct patient care.”

    Not only can energy conservation reduce overall business expenses and harmful carbon pollution - it can also improve lighting conditions for a better workplace environment.

    “Our company works with hospitals and medical facilities throughout the entire state of Maine and in New Hampshire and Vermont. Our work has saved Maine hospitals millions of dollars in operating costs and substantially reduced climate-changing pollution, and we have been awarded multiple awards for energy conservation from Efficiency Maine. To continue this good work, it is extremely important that RGGI funding be available so these energy conservation projects can continue,” said Chris Green, President of Mechanical Services, a Maine corporation with over 100 employees and offices in Portland, Augusta, Bangor, and Presque Isle. 

    “Pen Bay Medical Center is committed to providing high quality, compassionate, patient-centered care to our friends and neighbors in the Midcoast,” said Louis Dinneen, Vice President of Engineering & Facilities at Pen Bay Medical Center. “We are grateful for the partnership of the Efficiency Maine Trust, whose support has allowed us to provide more reliable heating/cooling and brighter and more efficient lighting, all while significantly reducing our operating costs and overall environmental impact.”

    The importance of the Clean Power Plan - RGGI is a model

    The Clean Power Plan sets the first limits ever on carbon pollution from power plants. Power plants are the nation’s largest source of this pollution, generating 40 percent nationwide. The plan is constantly under attack from U.S. Senators in coal-producing states and their allies. The votes of Maine Senators Collins and King are crucial to preserving this much-needed plan.

    “RGGI is seen as a model for other states across the U.S., as they prepare to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Because of RGGI, Maine in a position to easily meet targets set in the Plan,” said Pohlmann.

     Independent economic analysis has revealed that RGGI has provided a net benefit to the economy of Maine and the region since it was started in 2008. Over the last three years alone, RGGI as added $122 million to the Maine State Gross Product as well as hundreds of jobs. (Analysis Group, 2015) The program has also caused a net reduction in energy costs of hundreds of millions of dollars and has dramatically lowered carbon pollution from power plants across the region. Today coal and oil provide a much lower portion of Maine’s electricity mix than they did at the start of RGGI.

    “RGGI is a shining example of how smart, innovative policies can meet our environmental, economic, and energy challenges,” said Pohlmann. “With energy efficiency projects at hospitals like these, we can see how RGGI is providing benefits that reach into our health care community as well. Maine should be proud of its approach to RGGI.”

    Just this past Novemeber over 200 nations agreed to cut back carbon emmissions in Paris at the Climate Conference. The USA was heralded as leading the way. A key component to the implementation of the Paris agreement depends on the USA's Clean Power Plan.

    Despite the success of RGGI, efforts to roll back the program pop up periodically in Augusta, while in Washington, DC, polluters have sought to repeal the Clean Power Plan before it even gets underway. Both kinds of attacks appear blind to the actual benefits of RGGI. Governor LePage has submitted legislation to slash the use of RGGI funds for energy efficiency programs for businesses such as these three hospitals. That legislation is currently in front of Maine’s Energy & Utilities committee.

    “Right now legislation under consideration in Augusta would cut RGGI funding for large energy users by 80 percent, costing Maine businesses and institutions more than $100 million in increased energy bills,” said NRCM’s Lisa Pohlmann. “NRCM supports increasing, or, at least maintaining, current funding levels for energy efficiency.

  • Prison is no place for innocent, sick Mainers

    Editorial by Senator Anne Haskell from Portland

    The state-run psychiatric hospital in Augusta has many, many problems, and Governor Paul LePage’s plan to fix it is to put sick, innocent Mainers in prison. That’s just wrong.

    This week, Governor LePage proposed a bill to move patients out of the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, and into the Maine State Prison in Warren. The idea, he said, was to take unruly patients and put them in the prison’s mental health unit. He said the move was necessary for security reasons.

    But there’s one big problem with the governor’s plans: These patients, no matter how unruly, have not been convicted of any crime. They aren’t criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. So why would we ever put them in prison? This flies in the face of the very foundation of our justice system.

    Our state has been down this road before. Like most states, we have an embarrassing history of treating our mentally ill neighbors like a problem — and one best hidden from the rest of society. We’ve even traveled the dark path of mixing sick Mainers with criminals before.

    But we decided decades ago that it was wrong to treat sick people like the guilty. We recognized that no matter how severe a mental illness may be, sick Mainers need treatment and care, not to be locked away.

     Hospitals, like Riverview, are designed first and foremost for treatment, with recovery as an outcome. In a correctional setting, the goal is stabilization, so they can be moved back into the general prison population.

     The Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine State Prison is a good facility, and the staff there do good work. But it is not designed to meet the needs of non-criminal patients.

     We know that Riverview has been badly mismanaged by this administration. That mismanagement has led to chronic understaffing, numerous security incidents, and the loss of federal accreditation. Things have gotten so bad that a Court Master has been charged with oversight of the hospital.

     We need solutions to fix Riverview and make it a success, but the governor’s answer is to swap one problem for an entirely different one.

     Simply put, criminalizing mental illness is not a solution for the problems at Riverview. The hospital needs more staff, better resources, and a sound turnaround plan.

    A real solution may even include the creation of a new, independent unit designed specifically for patients with behavioral issues or violent behavior. But that facility must be a hospital setting, not a correctional one.       

    As the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, I will oppose the governor’s bill with all my might. And I’ll urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to do the same.

  • Bipartisan drug prevention, enforcement and treatment bill signed into law by Maine governor

    Legislature unanimously enacts law to fight drug addiction

    By Ramona du Houx

    On january 18, 2016, a bipartisan bill to combat the drug crisis in Maine passed both bodies of the Legislature. LD 1537 “An Act to Combat Drug Addiction Through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery”, passed both the Senate and House unanimously as amended.  

    The new measure is in responce to Maine's drug crisis. Five Mainers are dying every week from drug overdose.

    The bill was sponsored by Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and co-sponsored by Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).The law includes efforts to reinforce Maine’s law enforcement capacity to fight drug dealers on the streets and to strengthen the state’s treatment efforts to help more struggling Mainers break free from addiction. Governor Paul LePage initially only wanted to help fund an increase in law enforcement.

    “While many others have advocated for law enforcement funding alone, Speaker Eves and President Thibodeau have helped change the conversation by fighting for a more complete approach. By championing prevention, treatment, and expanded resources for law enforcement, they’re standing with families like mine and yours,” said Karen Walsh, Portland parent of a young person in recovery.

    “We did what many skeptics said we could not: we came together to pass a bipartisan, targeted, meaningful plan to address the drug crisis in Maine,” said Speaker Eves. “Today, our law enforcement, medical professionals, families, and young people trying to build a better life for themselves heard our commitment to provide the help they desperately need.”

    The final $3.7m package includes vital funding for prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement.

     Funding for the MDEA agents comes from the Gambling Control Board while the prevention and treatment portions will be funded through the Maine Medical Marijuana Fund and grants to law enforcement for treatment initiatives will be administered by the Department of Public Safety. 

    The new law will provide $2.4 million for additional addiction treatment programs, including a new 10-bed detoxification facility to be located somewhere in the underserved Northern or Eastern Maine regions. It will also support increased access to treatment services for uninsured Mainers, and bolster peer support recovery centers, which help those in recovery avoid relapse.

    “With a divided Legislature, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. But we knew that to address the drug addiction crisis, we needed to put politics aside,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This plan addresses both the supply and demand side of our drug problem, and will result in more treatment options for Mainers struggling to escape the grip of substance use disorder.”

    The bill also supports continued funding for 10 new MDEA agents. Those agents, once hired, will lead additional investigations that will continue MDEA’s work to bust trafficking operations and keep drugs off the streets. Additionally, it provides start-up grants for local law enforcement agencies to establish projects similar to Scarborough’s Operation HOPE, to connect addicts with treatment, recovery and support services.

    The bill was signed into law, by Governor Paul LePage who said,"I had expressed concerns about funding sources and the grant-making authority, but I thank legislative leadership for their willingness to broker changes that both the administration and the legislature could support."

  • Rep. Gideon’s measure would increase access to overdose reversal drug

    Bill would help put the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone in the hands of first responders

     A measure by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon would put the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone in the hands of more first responders.

    “We are experiencing a public health crisis in our state, which is taking lives at a tragic, alarming and growing rate,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “Naloxone saves lives. It’s a crucial tool to prevent overdose deaths. This bill is a crucial part of a comprehensive approach to addressing our addiction epidemic.”

    The measure, LD 1547, enables the Maine Attorney General’s Office to facilitate the bulk purchase of naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, in order to make the drug more accessible to municipalities. That will make it easier and more affordable for cities and towns to put naloxone in the hands of first responders who can use it to save lives.

    According to the Attorney General’s office, more than 200 Mainers died of a drug overdose in 2014. In the first nine months of 2015, there were 174 overdose deaths, putting the state on track to reach between 230 and 250 overdose deaths last year.

    Gideon sponsored emergency legislation passed in 2014 that allowed first responders with training to administer naloxone in order to prevent overdose deaths. Maine lawmakers approved an additional measure to expand access to the antidote sponsored by Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, last year. Since 2001, 16 other states have also passed laws making it easier to prescribe, dispense and administer naloxone.

    Also known by its trade name, Narcan, naloxone is not addictive and does not produce euphoria. It has no effect if there are no narcotics in a person’s system.

    The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee, which will schedule a public hearing in the coming weeks.

    Gideon is serving her second term in the Maine House.  She represents Freeport and part of Pownal.

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • DuPont knowingly kept using a toxic chemical

    The Editorial Board of the New York Times-read the origional piece HERE.

    An article in The Times Magazine on Sunday has laid bare the unconscionable decades-long efforts of the DuPont company to hide the dangers of an obscure chemical and bamboozle regulators into allowing toxic pollution to continue long after the dangers were known to the company. The article by Nathaniel Rich described how a corporate lawyer, Rob Bilott, built a devastating case against DuPont, based on the company’s own studies and internal documents. The case illustrates the urgent need for Congress to complete its efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has allowed tens of thousands of untested chemicals to remain on the market with little more than the manufacturer’s say-so that they are safe.

    The chemical that DuPont was protecting is known as PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. It is used in the production of Teflon for non-stick frying pans, a huge source of profits for DuPont. When the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in 1976, PFOA was one of a multitude of untested chemicals allowed to remain on the market. The act also made it extremely difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to require safety tests or crack down on chemicals known to be hazardous. Only a handful have been restricted over the past 40 years.

    In the case of PFOA, DuPont brazenly dumped its toxic waste into a creek that ran through a pasture where farmers grazed and watered their cows, causing grotesque malformations and deaths among the animals. Meanwhile, the company hid evidence that the chemical had contaminated the local water supply well beyond what the company’s own scientists considered safe and far beyond what independent scientists considered safe.

    The Senate and the House have passed bills that would go a long way toward preventing such tragedies. What remains is for the two chambers to reconcile their versions into one bill that can be sent to the president for his signature. The Senate bill is the stronger of the two. Both would make it harder for companies to hide information from the public and from federal or state agencies by claiming it is confidential business information. Both bills would require companies to justify claims of confidentiality, but the stronger Senate bill would also require the E.P.A. to review such claims. The Senate bill would also require full public disclosure of any chemical that was found to be hazardous in testing.

    The Senate bill would eliminate a “Catch-22” provision in existing law that says the E.P.A. can’t require safety testing unless it has evidence, which companies often try to hide, that a chemical may present an unreasonable risk. That is virtually impossible to demonstrate without the data that required testing would provide.

    For regulatory purposes, the existing law divides chemicals into two groups — “existing chemicals,” more than 60,000, that were on the market when the first Toxic Substances Control Act was established in 1979, and “new chemicals,” more than 20,000, that entered commerce after 1979.

    Although the law theoretically gave the E.P.A. authority to review “new chemicals” before they entered the market, it allowed companies to sell an untested chemical within 90 days if the overburdened agency didn’t challenge them, as was usually the case. The Senate bill, but not the House version, would mandate that the E.P.A. find the chemical safe before it can be marketed.

    The current law has no requirements for the E.P.A. to review the safety of existing chemicals. The Senate bill would require it to prioritize all chemicals in active commerce and set deadlines for their review. The House bill would largely leave the status quo untouched.

    Both bills would allow industry to nominate chemicals for priority review, but the House bill would require the E.P.A. to evaluate any chemical a manufacturer submits, potentially eating up all of the agency’s time and effort, whereas the Senate bill caps industry requests and gives the E.P.A. greater power to set its own priorities.

    There is strong bipartisan support in Congress to reform the existing law. The frightening DuPont saga is further reason for Congress to choose the strongest possible reform.

  • Maine Public testimony reveals dire need for action to fight drug epidemic

    Editorial by Senator Linda Valentino from Saco. 

    We know that Maine’s drug addiction crisis requires swift action. That was confirmed again this week when we heard directly from citizens about the grip substance abuse has on their loved ones and their communities.

     I serve on the Legislature’s budget committee. We started work this week on a bipartisan plan to bolster drug addiction treatment and support our law enforcement efforts. This multi-pronged approach is an important first step to solving our drug crisis.

    However, there are some in Augusta who pay lip service to the seriousness of the situation, but then they argue we already do enough and spend enough. They say we need to pump the brakes on fighting back.

    But the drug crisis can’t wait while politicians bicker and argue and fight over political points.

     Mainers spoke out during a public hearing this week. People travelled from all over our state and waited hours to tell us about the gravity of the situation. They know there’s no time to waste.

     Police officers told us horror stories about families devastated when addiction claimed the life of a child or sibling. They want to help sick people in their towns find help, but often there aren’t enough treatment resources to go around.

    Health providers that specialize in treating the disease of addiction said they’re doing everything they can, but are unequipped to face an epidemic that just keeps growing.

    But the most chilling and heart-wrenching testimony came from a regular Maine mother from Freeport. She said her son had struggled with addiction for much of his life. Unable to find help in Maine, he had to go to Minnesota and Montana to get on the path to recovery. Things seemed to be going well. Her son came home and finally earned his high school degree. But one relapse was enough to mean he had to leave again. This time he was lucky enough to find help in New Hampshire.

    That mom begged us to put politics aside and take action now.

    2015 set a new record for heroin deaths in Maine. Five Mainers die every week from a drug overdose. We know that stereotypes about addicts don’t tell the true story. For the truth, you need to read the obituaries. There, you’ll learn that heroin addiction doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, or whether you have a college degree or not. It affects unemployed young people and adults with good-paying jobs and families alike.

    How many more families need to be torn apart because their son or daughter is sick and needs help, but can’t get it here in Maine? People who want to leave drugs behind shouldn’t have to leave their families and everything they know.

    Those in Augusta who ask us to slow down say the waitlists for drug addiction treatment are “short,” but we know that’s not the whole story. People who want to take the first step toward recovery can’t afford to wait weeks or even months. Every day outside treatment is a day that could be their last.

    We have to do better. That mom in Freeport expects us to do our jobs. We know what needs to be done to save lives and start stemming the tide of drug abuse and addiction. The time for talking is over. It’s time to act.

  • Expanding MaineCare is an immediate way to help young people out of poverty

     Editorial by Karen Heck, a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville, Maine

    Call me a bleeding heart, but the fact that there are 15,000 children in Maine without health insurance, 1 in 4 children in Maine who are hungry, and 2 in 3 who can’t read at grade level makes me ashamed of my adopted state. Those figures pose a risk to kids’ well-being and to our state’s future economic prosperity.

    A decidedly non-bleeding heart organization, the non-partisan Maine Economic Growth Council, issues a report on 23 Measures of Growth indicating progress toward long-term, sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life for all Maine people future.

    One Measure of Growth the group tracks is the rate of poverty, because “bringing our poverty rates down is critical to helping create a solid foundation for Mainers so we can improve other outcomes like educational attainment, food insecurity, health status, and employment levels.”

    Another measure tracks Maine students’ level of reading proficiency at fourth grade “because fourth grade is the point at which reading should be established as a skill and students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

    The Economic Growth Council supports programs like Head Start and quality childcare as critical components in achieving higher levels of reading skills.

    A third measure tracks the rate of health insurance coverage because “health insurance helps people establish a relationship with a provider and access preventive care that can help avoid more costly and disruptive procedures down the road, helping people live healthier, more productive lives.”

    A fourth measure looks at food insecurity, otherwise known as hunger, because “the total annual direct and indirect cost of food insecurity (including poor health, lowered educational outcomes, reduced earnings, and the value of charitable contributions to address hunger) has been estimated at $787 million for Maine.”

    The 2015 Measures of Growth indicate Maine’s poverty rate has risen to 14.2 percent. In addition, 64 percent of Maine children are not proficient at reading by fourth grade — yes, that’s 64 percent — and the rate of Medicaid coverage declined from 23 to 20 percent, leaving 11,000 more children than three years ago without healthcare. Lastly, 24 percent of Maine children are hungry.

    Despite critics’ attempts to deny it, the data is clear about what works in creating a path out of intergenerational poverty. The lives of millions have been improved with an array of services that include Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, education and job training, and food stamps.

    Some of the people needing those services spent Christmas at the Mid Maine Homeless Shelter. Among them were 14 young children, two 18-year-old high school students working and finishing high school, and two students, ages 20 and 21, enrolled in adult education and working. Their wages at 25 hours a week are so low they can’t afford even a tiny efficiency apartment.

    Many policy decisions that would make a difference in helping these and others move out of poverty will not be debated in this short session of the Legislature. However, the expansion of Medicaid will be.

    Two Republican senators, Roger Katz and Tom Saviello, have reintroduced a bill to expand Medicaid to help the state address the current drug epidemic using federal rather than state dollars. The governor and the majority of Republicans are, again, dead set against this bill becoming law.

    Those who understand that the road out of poverty is one the government can make easier by taking a comprehensive approach that works, not by kicking people off programs, which doesn’t work, can stand up now.

    That means engaging in the political process, something many are loathe to do.

    However, government policies need to be in place to support those who are struggling with little or no work, mental illness, drug addiction and over burdening the criminal justice system, and our voices help create those policies.

    We have the opportunity in this Legislative session to make a difference in this one policy decision that will affect our children’s lives. Expanding Medicaid is something that nine Republican governors have joined two independents and 19 Democratic governors in doing because they know it makes economic sense for their states.

    Really, what other species abandons its young? How did we get to a point where we think it’s OK to have children living at the homeless shelter, while their parents work, try to go to school, look for jobs or deal with mental illness?

    While the animal kingdom relies on instinct to care for their young, we actually have research on the kinds of policies that make a difference in people’s lives.

    Our job is to overcome the voices of those who think the answer is punishing people for their situation. It’s in your own self interest to overcome your reluctance to write letters, talk with candidates and legislators, call the governor, and speak out.

    I hope you will join me.

    This piece first appeared in the Morning Sentinal 

  • Tax breaks to make it easier for farmers, businesses to donate to food pantries passes House

    By Ramona du Houx

    A tax break that Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said will help reduce food waste passed the House on December 17, 2015 as part of a larger package of tax provisions. The provision, which is part of Pingree's Food Recovery Act, creates a permanent "enhanced" tax deduction for businesses and farmers who donate excess food to organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens.

    "This tax break makes it easier and more worthwhile for businesses and farmers to donate excess food to a food pantry," said Pingree. "It will mean less food going to landfills and more food going to feed people struggling with hunger."

    An estimated 40 percent of food produced every year in the United States is wasted, meanwhile nearly 50 million people struggle with hunger.  If food waste is reduced by just 15 percent and good quality, wholesome food is redirected to people in need, the number of hungry Americans could be cut in half.

     An enhanced tax deduction means the taxpayer gets credit for the full value of the food, plus an additional deduction to compensate for the expense and labor of donating the product.  The provision also increases the maximum tax deduction from 10 percent to 15 percent of taxable income.

    The provision in Pingree's Food Recovery Act, was originally introduced in a bill written by Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY). Pingree introduced her Food Recovery Act, a comprehensive package of legislative proposals aimed at reducing wasted food, earlier this month. Please read more HERE.

     

  • Pingree introduces landmark Food Recovery Act aimed to feed America by reducing food waste


    Congresswomen Cheillie Pingree on her farm in Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine ranks 12th in the nation in food insecurity with one in four children going hungry everyday while there is good food being trashed. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has started the ball moving to solve the problem for Maine, and the nation.

    On December 7, 2015 at the Portland Food Co-Op, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced her bill to reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year in the United States.  That piece of legislation, The Food Recovery Act, includes nearly two-dozen provisions to reduce food waste across the economy.

    “I am hoping desperately that this gets the conversation going in Washington. 40 percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted," said Pingree. 

    • America increased food waste in 2010 by 16 percent as 33.79 million tons of food were wasted that year - enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times.
    • Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the methane gas that is created at is decomposes.
    • A single restaurant in the U.S. can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in a year, according to the Green Restaurant Association.

    “Every day, we needlessly waste a staggering amount of perfectly good food and the general public doesn’t even know it’s happening,” said Sarah Lakeman, Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

    Pingree added, "The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table."

    Pingree's bill targets wasted food in four areas:

    1. at the consumer level,
    2. in grocery stores and restaurants,
    3. in schools and other institutions,
    4. and on the farm.

    "Wasted food costs us over $160 billion a year in this country," said Pingree.  "That works out to about $125 a month for a family of four. We can save money and feed more Americans if we reduce the amount of food that ends up getting sent to landfills."

    Pingree’s bill would provide new tax deductions for diverting unwanted food to food banks and using inedible food scraps, such as banana peels and eggshells, for compost.

    The bill also provides grant funding to help schools and public institutions make better connections with local farms, including using lower-priced fruits and vegetables that aren’t deemed pretty enough to sell commercially. These “ugly” fruits and vegetables are often trashed when they hold as much value in their nutrients and vitamins as their manikin cousins. The problem has been that farmers don’t have the resources to take the “ugly” fruits and vegetables to food banks or educational institutions. It’s time consuming, so they trash tons of good food, daily. The proposed tax deductions should turn this catastrophe around.

    Pingree was joined by dozens of people representing groups and organizations from throughout Maine. 

    Restaurants often toss scraps into the garbage adding to landfills. But any scrap that is biodegradable can and could be reclaimed by the earth — by composting it. Then that compost will be rich in nutrients to put on gardens in the spring. Some restaurants compost and have their own gardens, like Pingree’s own restaurant. The tax-deductions in her bill would give more restaurants the incentive to compost.

     "Wasting food is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for Americans who are struggling to afford healthy food to feed their families. Congresswoman Pingree is a national leader on sustainable food and farming and I’m glad she’s taking on this huge issue of wasted food," said celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action and owner/chef of Crafted Hospitality.

    Pingree’s bill clarifies that “sell-by” dates on food are only manufacturer suggestions, not dates required by the federal government, which most people assume they are. Those “sell-by” dates do not mean the food is unsafe to eat after that date.

    The irony of the current system is that farmers, restaurants, and supermarkets all want to feed people. But in all these businesses there is unintentional food waste.

    “Connecting farmers to hungry people through incentives to donate food, and recycling waste food when it is no longer usable closes the loop in the system rather than contributing to the conventional linear waste stream,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

    “This groundbreaking legislation offers assistance to farmers and retailers, supports food recovery organizations, and helps consumers by clarifying the senseless date labels that appear on foods. It thus achieves many of the goals our clinic has advocated over the past few years and we are thrilled to work in support of its passage,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. 

    Hannah Semler, of Healthy Acadia's Gleaning Program in Hancock County wrote a statement of support for the legislation."In Maine, and throughout the U.S. as well as other parts of the world, managing excess food from farms is becoming a pathway to food security. Healthy Acadia sees the integration of food waste reduction strategies as a quality management concern for food business, schools, hospitals, food pantries, and household economics. We expect many synergies to come from the Food Recovery Act… and we are grateful to be a part of the conversation.”

  • New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef



    By Ramona du Houx

    New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said the regulations, she pushed for, will help track food-borne illnesses like the antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to Hannaford Supermarkets in 2011. 

    "I'm glad USDA has issued these rules that will make it mandatory for retailers to keep track of where the beef they are grinding is coming from—this is something we have been pushing hard for and I'm glad regulators have agreed it's necessary.  As we learned the hard way, the voluntary guidelines that have been in place were just not sufficient when contaminated ground beef ended up in the grocery store," said Pingree.

    The Congresswoman had pushed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to toughen up requirements for retailers to keep careful records of the sources of meat used to produce ground beef in their butcher shops. 

    Pingree, who sits on the committee that oversees the USDA's budget, had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushing for better record keeping to allow quick tracing of food-born illnesses related to tainted ground beef.

    Pingree said while the record keeping will help find the source of illnesses from ground beef, the increased use of antibiotics in animal feed continues to put consumers at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.

    "The particular strain of Salmonella found in the 2011 outbreak was drug resistant, something we are seeing more and more often," said Pingree. "The use of human antibiotics in animal feed has become more and more common and it's leading to new strains of infections that no longer respond to the antibiotics we have.  It's a pretty scary problem."

    The Salmonella linked to the outbreak four years ago was multi-drug resistant.  Although the infections traced to the ground beef responded to some drugs, a number of antibiotics normally used to treat Salmonella proved ineffective with that strain. 

    The incidence of drug resistant infections in farm animals has been on the increase since large-scale cattle, hog and chicken growers started adding antibiotics to feed.  The antibiotics help ward off some of the disease that comes when animals are packed into tighter quarters and fed lower quality feed.  But when antibiotics are given to animals on a daily basis, it doesn’t take long for new, drug-resistant forms of the disease to emerge.

    Pingree is a sponsor of a bill banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed unless they are medically necessary and has pushed federal officials to limit their use.

  • Action from DHHS is demanded as Maine ranks last in food assistance program delivery

    By Ramona du Houx

     According to the Food and Nutrition Service’s most recent report, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has the lowest application procession timeliness rate in the country for the food stamp program— known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

    From January to June of 2015 the state’s processing time rate was 68.97 percent. It is an appalling figure that has led Maine to become known as the worst state in delivering SNAP assistance. Maine is now ranked 53 out of 53 agencies that deliver SNAP.

    Applicants should receive SNAP benefits by the 7th day from the date of application. Maine’s worst processing case, number 78901234 of 2014, took 59 days to process.

    Imagine the anxiety of a parent having to wait for assistance to feed their children.

    Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond is demanding immediate accountability from DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Gov. Paul LePage after the Department of Health and Human Services over the issue.

    “While more and more people in our state don’t have enough to eat, the Department is dragging its feet,” said Sen. Alfond. “Maine children and seniors who are playing by the rules and eligible for food assistance are left hungry and waiting because DHHS can’t or won’t do its job.”

    It’s important to remember that SNAP is a federal program where no state funds are used.

    In a Dec. 7 letter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notified DHHS that it faced a potential loss of federal SNAP administration funds if DHHS doesn’t improve its delivery rate. In fiscal year 2014, that funding was roughly $10.2 million.

    The letter outlined the Department's failure to process SNAP applications on time. Those delays mean hungry Mainers miss more meals because of broken DHHS bureaucracy. It detailed the state’s “chronically poor performance” in meeting laws “meant to protect a low-income household’s right to receive nutrition assistance benefits in a timely manner.” 

     If DHHS loses its contract with the federal government to deliver SNAP in a timely way — so people are not put at risk from hunger — the federal government would find another agency to deliver the SNAP benefits to people.

    The letter also described DHHS’s failure to adequately address problems in its administration of SNAP, which have been raised again and again by the USDA.

    “DHHS has shown a brazen disregard for accountability,” said Sen. Alfond. “They have bristled at those who would hold them responsible for the dangerous conditions at Riverview, the sudden decision to end contracts that provide needed health care services, and now, the failure to administer the SNAP program. Now the state faces a potential multi-million dollar penalty for that mismanagement.”

    Sen. Alfond is exploring his options to hold the department accountable and ensure it is fulfilling its mission to serve Maine people.

    Sen. Alfond is also leading an effort to ensure school children are fed during summer months when there is no access to meals at their schools.

  • Legislative leaders announce bipartisan $4.8 million plan to combat drug crisis in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Legislative leaders presented a $4.8 million dollar legislative package to fight the drug crisis in Maine on December 9, 2015. The bipartisan plan includes prevention, treatment and 10 more drug agents.

    The drug crisis is huge in Maine and along with it unwarranted stigmas about addicts.

    The number of overdoses in Maine and the country surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and gunshots in 2014. In Maine 208 people died from an overdose, of those 57 died primarily because of heroin and 43 because of fentanyl.

    The overprescription of potent narcotics by physicians, mainly because pharmaceutical companies promoted them, inadvertently addicted thousands of people. As doctors corrected the problem, the street supply of prescription narcotics decreased. Unfortunately, a vast supply of cheap heroin, often laced with potent synthetic drugs like fentanyl, replaced those prescription drugs to continue to supply the new demand.

    “Now more than half of my practice time is spent taking care of drug-dependent people. I have witnessed how drug addiction is ravaging Maine… Addicted individuals are not ‘bad people from away.’ They are our parents, our children and grandchildren. They are our friends and co-workers and neighbors. They deserve access to treatment,” stated Dr. Gust Stringos, D.O., of Somerset Primary Care.

    “We’ve crafted a targeted, comprehensive plan that addresses the reality of drug addiction in Maine. We wanted to focus on what was practical, what was possible and what is a good first step toward a healthier Maine,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves.

    The plan invests $2.4 million in treatment efforts over 18 months, including $1 million in funding for a new 10-bed detox unit in Bangor. In addition, the plan increases access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for the uninsured, and doubles the number of peer-to-peer support recovery centers across the state.

    The plan also provides $2.4 million to strengthen law enforcement efforts, including funding 10 new MDEA agents and a statewide coordinator to connect law enforcement to treatment providers.

    If the initiative becomes law funding is included in the bill to launch programs at five police departments around the state to be modeled after the successful Operation Hope, the Heroin- Opiate Prevention Effort, and/or the Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program.

    “This plan will provide critical support to law enforcement on the front lines and enable us to better serve members of our communities who need help,“ said Officer John Gill, who has witnessed the success of Operation Hope as a member the Scarborough Police Department.

    Operation Hope consists of specialized law enforcement training, public education with outreach, and treatment with assistance as well as other services. The program has served over 50 people in its first 50 days.

    Under the LePage administration drug treatment funding has been cut.

    “I fear that more Mainers will have to go without treatment. This year, we saw the flagship treatment program at Mercy Hospital in Portland close for lack of funding,” said Doctor Stringos. “Patients who are lucky enough to get into treatment in Maine usually struggle with the costs. Many young adults have no insurance and do not qualify for MaineCare because of the governor’s refusal to expand the program.”

    Portland parent Julie Lawson, who is currently in recovery, recounted her experience with addiction and the treatment she received from Mercy Hospital’s treatment program prior to its closure. “Because of treatment I’m going to be there to watch my son grow up. I’m living proof that treatment works and that it can save families like mine,” she said.

    The irony, which was not lost on the Cover Maine Now! Coalition is that existing federal resources, with the ACA, would pay for many of the treatment services being proposed with the lawmakers plan.

    “The plan is a good first step, and we are particularly encouraged that Republicans and Democrats were able to come together to find common ground and to move the state forward,” said Ann Woloson, a member of the Cover Maine Now! Coalition. “We also want to remind lawmakers that the most cost effective, comprehensive and efficient way to increase funding for drug treatment would be to accept federal funding to expand access to MaineCare.”

    Gov. LePage has rejected the expansion of MaineCare, which could have happened under President Obama’s free expansion of Medicaid to states, with the Affordable Care Act. As a result about 70,000 Mainers do not have healthcare coverage because of LePage. In addition the state and hospitals would have been able to make money if LePage had just accepted the Medicaid funds.

    State’s that have implemented the ACA have witnessed their economies grow. They also have more drug treatment options.

    “Maine has an opportunity to harness significant resources to address persistent criminal justice issues, including drug addiction and the incarceration of people with severe mental illness who could be better treated outside of prison or jail,” said Woloson. “We hope the same spirit of bipartisan cooperation that lead to this plan can be a building block to providing health insurance to 70,000 Mainers, including comprehensive drug addiction treatment services for those most in need.”

    Speaker Eves and other lawmakers have tried with various bills to expand Medicaid with the ACA but every attempt has met with a veto from Gov. LePage.

    Now the drug crisis is unfolding under his watch and lawmakers that have proposed bills are determined to stem the epidemic.

     “We stand with law enforcement, treatment providers, and parents in saying enough is enough. Over the next legislative session, we will work to implement these and other efforts to help keep our families and communities healthy and safe,” said Speaker Eves. 

     The proposal is on an accelerated track, as legislative committees will hold hearings and work sessions before the full Legislature returns on January 6, 2015.

    The plan joins five other bills approved by Legislative Council last month that address the drug crisis. One bill lawmakers will consider next year would restore MaineCare reimbursement rates, that were cut during LePage’s administration, for methadone providers to 2010 levels.

     

  • USDA awards $2.68 Million in distance learning and telemedicine grants for 7 Maine projects

    Telemedicine at work in Maine.

    On Nov. 19, 2015 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $23.4 million in 75 projects in 31 states and the Western Pacific to expand distance learning and telemedicine opportunities in rural areas.

    In Maine, seven organizations have been selected to receive a total of $2.68 in grant funds for distance learning and telemedicine projects in Maine communities. Historically Maine organizations have been in the top of the country in terms of these awards, as is again this year one of the top three states tied for number of recipients funded.

    “This represents a major investment in healthcare and education for Maine’s rural and Native American populations. These projects mean that adult learning, mental health services, home healthcare, diabetes management and many other quality programs will be available to residents in Maine’s rural communities without the cost of gas or stress associated with traveling long distances,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

     The grants are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. They may be used to purchase equipment to provide educational and telemedicine services to rural communities.

    “Rural communities often lack access to specialized medical care or advanced educational opportunities necessary for stronger rural economies,” said Vilsack. “These grants will help increase access to health care and many other essential services.”

    The grants in Maine go to: 

    • Maine Rural Health Collaborative, LLC, Mount Desert Island, $431,599 - Rural Development funds will enable the project to offer telemedicine services to nine rural clinics located in the northern and eastern areas of Maine.  Through the project, psychiatrist services, dermatology, diabetes care, and other specialty management services will be provided.  In addition, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (Aroostook County) and the Passamaquoddy Indian Health Centers (Washington County) will participate in the network.  It is estimated that 3,000 Native Americans will also benefit from this project.
    • Easton School District, Easton, $499,773- Rural Development funds will be used to deploy fully-interactive video-teleconferencing equipment at 1 hub-site and 29 end-user sites i.e., 27 public schools, 1 occupational training center and a Micmac facility (a federally-recognized tribe), to facilitate the interexchange & sharing of educational and vocational materials among educators, students and adult learners via the Internet.
    • Regional School Unit 64, Corinth, $498,535- Rural Development funds will be used to establish an interactive distance learning network that broadcasts classes from Hudson Elementary School, Maine Central Institute, and Hampden Academy to 6 schools served by RSU 64 School District, 3 schools served by RUS 50 School District as well as Beatrice Rafferty School located on the Passamaquoddy reservation.
    • Region Two School of Applied Technology (Rural Maine Public Health Consortium), Houlton, $498,825- Rural Development funds will be used to connect the Pleasant Point Adult Education Center on the Passamaquoddy Tribal Reservation and 48 other Adult Education centers throughout Southern and Eastern Maine.  Region 2 School of Applied Technology, the lead organization, will oversee this project as well as the sister project with Maine Adult Education Consortium while University of Maine (UM) serves as technology hub for both projects.  Educational content in nursing, allied health, and mental health subject areas will originate from Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) to all connected education centers.  Mobile devices with telepresence packages will be installed at the education centers while cart-mounted video endpoint equipment will be deployed at the hubs and hub/end-user sites.  The project also leverages existing video equipment at UM, KVCC and Somerset Public Health sites.
    • Region Two School of Applied Technology, Houlton, $499,378- Rural Development funds will be used to offer adult classes ranging from basic literacy and high school completion to highly specialized, career-focused training amongst 42 end user sites.  The project will enable local residents to go to a local facility and choose classes offered from anywhere in the state.  Another benefit of the project is that fewer teachers will be required for the area to teach the same number of students, reducing duplication of effort and creating opportunity for them to develop and offer new classes.
    • Kno-Wal-Lin Home Health Care Management, Inc., Rockland, $130,000- Rural Development funds will be used to provide tele-homecare monitors, plus integrated peripherals, to elderly, disabled and chronically ill residents of rural Maine.  Through remote patient monitoring, improved integration of patient information, and quicker response times for practitioners when patients are in jeopardy, patients will receive the timely care needed to prevent emergency room visits, hospitalization and institutionalization.  The use of the proposed home monitoring system and video-links will allow health professionals and patients to interact in a more frequent and timely manner.  Patients will experience reduced stress, a reduced need to travel to and from healthcare services, and will save time and money. Individuals will experience an increased quality of life and be able to remain at home as long as possible, despite having age-related handicaps and illnesses. 
    • Home Health Visiting Nurses of Southern Maine, Saco, $129,400- Rural Development funds will be used to deliver telehealth services to patients in their homes.  The services that will be provided are daily nurse monitoring of vital signs, video connection with clinicians, medication management modules, and disease specific health education.  The project will benefit western Cumberland County, northern York County, and western York County.

    The awards are being announced on National Rural Health Day to highlight work underway in the private sector, academia and in state and federal rural health offices to address the unique health care needs of rural communities.

    Funding of each award announced is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of their grant agreement.

    Since 2009, USDA has provided more than $213 million in loans and grants for 634 distance learning and telemedicine projects in rural areas nationwide.

    President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities.

    USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. 

  • Maine State Sen. Haskell says LePage and lawmakers must take holistic approach to end drug crisis

     Editorial by State Senator Anne Haskell, from Portland

    It’s becoming more urgent every day for state leaders to work together as  more and more Mainers become victims of drug addiction.

     It’s no secret that Maine has a drug addiction problem. Here in Portland this summer, our city experienced a hellish 24-hour period that saw 14 people overdose on heroin. Two people died, and more deaths likely would have occurred if not for the heroic work of our emergency responders.

    The story from a statewide perspective is even worse.

    In the first half of 2015, 105 of our friends and neighbors died from a drug overdose. Of those, more than half were caused by heroin or fentanyl, a narcotic that’s 40 or 50 times stronger than pure heroin.

    Our state is becoming a case study on rampant drug addiction. Stories of suffering Mainers  — or worse, their mourning families — are making headlines around the country.

    Last week, I was honored to attend an annual celebration hosted by Day One, a substance abuse treatment center for young people in our state. The keynote speaker was Chris Herren, a former player for the Boston Celtics. He recounted his own harrowing story of addiction, which followed him throughout his pro sports career.  

    Herren’s story makes clear that drugs don’t only prey upon people in the streets. They come for all — rich and poor, rural and urban, black and white. This is a problem for all Maine people.

    Make no mistake, the epidemics of drug addiction, overdose and death are one of the biggest threats facing our state. Last week, Gov. Paul LePage made  an unexpected visit to the Appropriations Committee, where he issued a heartfelt call to action.

    I share the governor’s passion to fight this fight. But I disagree with his approach. He told the committee he is focused on law enforcement alone. He demanded the Legislature provide more agents to fight the drug war, but has little interest in increasing our support for treatment and education.

    If our drug crisis is anything, it is complex, as Chris Herren’s story illustrates. We need a commitment from not only our state and local leaders, but our everyday Mainers, to stop this epidemic for good. That means a holistic approach that combats drug addiction on multiple fronts.

    Of course we have to put bad guys in jail. But we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Every time we arrest a drug dealer, a new one will cross our state borders with the intention of poisoning our friends, our neighbors, and our children. So we must also treat those suffering from addiction, and prevent others from becoming addicted in the first place.

    After all, if there is no demand for drugs, there will be no business for dealers in Maine.

    It is time to act now, before the disease of addiction can claim any more lives. The Legislature has always taken the drug crisis seriously, and we will continue to do so. The bipartisan budget provided additional resources to fight the drug crisis head-on.  We know that we must do more.

    Democrats are ready to work with the Gov. LePage to put together a plan that addresses trafficking, addiction and treatment. It is my sincere hope the governor will collaborate with us — not just make demands — to tackle this catastrophe and save lives.

     

  • Maine's Senator Haskell continues push for paid sick time

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine currently does not require employers to provide paid sick leave, which means nearly 200,000 Maine workers in the private sector have no way to earn paid sick time. This means Mainers every day making the choice between their health and their paycheck.

    A bill by Sen. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat, would ensure that workers at companies with 11 or more employees have the ability to earn up to seven days of paid sick time per year. However, Republicans on the Legislative Council voted in October to block the bill from a fair hearing in the House and Senate. Sen. Haskell has announced she will appeal the Council’s decision at its November meeting.

    “The impact on a family when a breadwinner must take unpaid leave from work is devastating,” said Sen. Haskell. “Not only does that mean lost pay, but workers could actually face disciplinary action or even lose their jobs for doing the responsible thing and staying home when sick.”

    When workers cannot earn paid sick time, public health suffers. Just 40 percent of private service-sector employees are eligible for paid sick time. These workers, including restaurant, hotel and retail employees, interact with the public for a living, and many are likely to come to work sick, increasing the likelihood of passing an illness on to coworkers or customers.

    Paid sick leave laws are picking up steam around the country, with cities and states nationwide guaranteeing this basic worker right.

    On Labor day of 2015, President Obama issued an executive order requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to allow all employees on federal contracts to accrue up to seven days of paid sick time each year.

    “It is time Maine stepped up to the plate and showed workers how valuable they are to our economy,” said San. Haskell. “I urge my Republican colleagues to reconsider their votes against this bill.” 

    Bills for the second session must be allowed in by the Council, a body comprised of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans in the Legislature. Given the split makeup of the Council, bipartisan support is needed for any bill to advance to the Legislature.

    The Legislative Council will meet to consider appeals on November 19.

  • Maine's Senator Alfond to fight after GOP rejects bills to fight child hunger

     Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond will appeal the rejection of several bills designed to fight student hunger in Maine.

    “Student hunger is holding back the next generation of Maine leaders. A student’s biggest worry should not be where their next meal will come from.” Sen. Alfond said. “Failure to pass these bills means more children will go hungry for no good reason.”

    Food insecurity in Maine is rising disproportionately. Nearly half of Maine’s school-age children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Hunger affects communities from Calais to Upton, and Fort Kent to Kittery, but many eligible children continue to go hungry. Studies show that hunger affects children’s performance at school, so inadequate nutrition today can jeopardize Maine children’s futures for years to come.

    All three of Sen. Alfond’s bills were rejected in party line votes, with the Council’s five Republican members blocking their approval for consideration by the Legislature when it convenes for the second regular session in January. The bills are:

    • LR 2409, “An Act to Increase Collaboration Between the Department of Education and School Food Service Directors,” which would give schools the tools they need to ensure all qualified students receive free meals at school.
    • LR 2410, “An Act to Feed Young Children by Strengthening the Child and Adult Care Food Program,” which would streamline the application for qualified after school facilities such as YMCAs that want to participate in federal anti-hunger programs; and
    • LR 2416, “An Act to Feed Children from Low-income Families,” which would ensure that a lack of cash on any given day is never an obstacle for eligible children to receive meals at school.

     

    Bills for the second session must be allowed in by the Legislative Council, a body comprised of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans in the Legislature. Given the split makeup of the Council, bipartisan support is needed for any bill to advance to the Legislature.

    The Legislative Council will meet to consider appeals on November 19.

    “I urge my Republican colleagues to reconsider their votes on these crucial and commonsense bills,” Sen. Alfond said. “Maine kids should not go hungry because of partisanship in Augusta.”

  • Senator Breen to appeal rejection of bill to help deaf students

    Sen. Cathy Breen, a Falmouth Democrat, is urging Republican members of the Legislative Council to support her bill to help the state’s only school for the deaf fulfil its mission to educate students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

    Sen. Breen’s bill, LR 2269, “An Act to Promote Private Fundraising for the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf,” was initially rejected in a party-line vote during the Legislative Council’s meeting on Oct. 22. All Democrats supported her bill, and all Republicans opposed it.

    “I trust that with all the information in front of them, my Republican colleagues will support this commonsense solution for the Baxter School,” Sen. Breen said. “This bill will simply level the playing field by allowing the school to engage donors who want to see the school succeed.”

    The school, now called the Maine Educational Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, recently embarked on a fundraising drive only to learn that state law bars them from soliciting and accepting private funds. MECDHH is a one-of-a-kind institution in the state and is involved in serving deaf and hard of hearing students all over Maine.

    “The Maine Educational Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing has numerous unmet needs for children with hearing loss and their families whom we serve statewide,” said David Sherry, the school’s executive director. “The ability to respond to those needs is critical to the agency’s mission. Currently, because of a state statute prohibiting us from raising money outside of the state’s appropriation, we are unable to meet those needs. Sen. Breen’s bill provides the Center with an opportunity to engage in private fundraising to support our comprehensive mission. We hope the legislative leadership will see this bill as worthy of emergency action.”

    Other public schools in Maine are allowed to conduct this kind of fundraising, and Sen. Breen’s bill would simply create the same opportunity for MECDHH. A nonprofit foundation is already willing and able to act as the Center's fiscal agent.

    “The current law amounts to needless red tape preventing this school from expanding and improving the education opportunities that deaf students deserve,” Sen. Breen said. “I can really see no good reason to oppose this bill.”

    Bills for the second session must be allowed in by the Legislative Council, a body comprised of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans in the Legislature. Given the split makeup of the Council, bipartisan support is needed for any bill to advance to the Legislature.

    The Legislative Council will meet to consider appeals on November 19.

  • Special Elections in Maine House Districts 19, 23 see democratic wins and hope for the future

    By Ramona du Houx

    Special Elections in Maine House Districts 19, 23 see democratic wins and bring hope for the future.

    "Congratulations to candidates Lester Ordway of Standish and Matthew Harrington of Sanford," said House Speaker Mark Eves, D- North Berwick. "These were highly contested, very close, hard fought races in swing and Republican leaning districts." 

    Democrats hold the majority in the Maine House with a 78 seat majority.  There are four independents and 69 Republicans. 

    Republicans will likely challenge the victory of Ordway in Standish, District 19.

    "We expect a recount in House District 19, where the margin of victory was 15 votes. Regardless of the results, we must all come together to grow good jobs and strong wages in our state," said Eves.

    Democrats have hopes of increasing House members in the 2016 elections and reclaiming the State Senate, thereby enabling the legislature with the ability to over-ride Gov. LePage's veto on the Affordable Care Act expansion that would cover 70,0000 Mainers still without health insurance. 

    The ACA has proven it's effectiveness in other states while bringing funds in as state revenue.

    Dirigo Health Care Act, of Governor John Baldacci, covered more Mainers and increased healthcare outcomes, putting Maine in a list for of the 10 best states for healthcare coverage. But when LePage took office he eliminated Dirigo, put Maine near the bottom of the list, and put thousands of Mainer's health at risk.

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Bills defeated in Maine that threatened health care access and reproductive rights

    Editorial by Rep. Sara Gideon, the assistant House majority leader

    This week Democrats stood up for health care access and for women’s reproductive rights as we turned back attempts to undermine women’s access to safe, legal abortion in Maine.

    I’m proud to report that I and my fellow Democratic legislative leaders stood with Planned Parenthood as we said, “No” to proposed bills that targeted this vital health care provider.                                     

    We know, as Mainers across the state do, that Planned Parenthood keeps women, men and young people healthy. Right here in Maine, Planned Parenthood provides comprehensive health care to 10,000 patients a year.

    Men and women like you and me, or like your son and your daughter, or perhaps even like your parents before you. I myself relied on a Planned Parenthood wellness doctor when I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford health care.

    The organization’s services include birth control, life-saving cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and safe abortion. Planned Parenthood’s work has helped significantly lower rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion in Maine.

    Planned Parenthood is a key part of our safety net too. Many of its patients would literally have nowhere else to turn for medical care and family planning. In fact, half of Planned Parenthood’s health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas, and 66 percent of it patients receive free or discounted care.

    Planned Parenthood opponents claim that community health centers could simply step in and fill the gap if the organization was defunded.

    But an analysis from the independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 630,000 Planned Parenthood patients nationally would lose access to care defunding efforts succeeded.

    Make no mistake about it:  this is simply part of the cynical attempt to limit women’s access to safe and legal abortion. It’s just another smokescreen – like the discredited, doctored videos that have been at the center of the political sideshow in Washington, D.C.

    Mainers across the state are well-aware of accusations against Planned Parenthood and they know they are false. According to a recent poll, 70 percent of Maine voters oppose congressional Republicans’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Fifty-five percent are strongly opposed.

    Extremists in Congress were willing to hold all of American hostage in pursuit of their agenda. We say “No” to importing this political circus to our state.

    We could have seen some of this in Maine, but we squashed that effort by rejecting proposals before the Legislative Council, the bipartisan group of leaders that determines which bills can move forward for the upcoming legislative session.

    We will not let anyone hold a woman’s access to safe and affordable health care hostage.  A person’s health is not available for sale. It’s not available for trade and it’s certainly not available for blackmail.

    That’s the promise we Democratic leaders affirmed this week, one that we will continue to honor. You can count on that.

    I’m Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport, and I stand with Planned Parenthood.

  • Democratic leaders condemn attacks on health care access for Maine women, families

    GOP measures target key health care provider, reproductive health

     Democratic leaders are standing firm against House Republicans’ political efforts  to roll back access to health care for Maine women and families.

    “Maine women and families can count on us to turn back any effort to block access to health care and family planning. These bills will not go forward,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “Maine Republicans should not continue the false national attacks on Planned Parenthood. The national political circus has no place in the Maine House.”

    House Republican lawmakers on Friday announced four measures submitted for the second session that threaten access to health care and family planning.

    “The upcoming legislative session is for emergency bills only. These proposals are anything but,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill of York. “Our sputtering job growth is an emergency. Our drug crisis is an emergency. These proposals are nothing but thinly veiled attempts to cripple a leading provider of health care while undermining a woman's access to safe, legal abortion. We don't have time for this nonsense. We have work to do.”

    “Democratic leaders are united against these attacks on Planned Parenthood, women’s reproductive rights and access to health care. We know that Planned Parenthood is vital to the health and well-being of 10,000 Maine women, men and young people,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport. “We stand with all the Mainers across the state who reject these tactics.”

    “The fight in Washington brought out fringe elements in Congress that were willing to send our country hurtling toward government shutdown. Smear campaigns and discredited, doctored video footage masqueraded as policy debate,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. “It was all about advancing an agenda to limit women’s access to safe, legal abortion. We don’t want to bring this political circus to our state.”

     

    “The simple fact is that any plan to weaken Planned Parenthood is a plan to weaken access to affordable, quality health care. That’s why Mainers overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood, and oppose these baseless, ideological attacks against it,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland.

     

    The Legislative Council will consider bills for the second session when it meets Thursday. A bill needs a majority vote to move forward for the legislative session that beings in January.

  • Law to improve well-being of older Mainers goes into effect Oct. 15

    Measure allows caregivers to have vital information 

     A law to help Maine seniors by allowing them to designate a caregiver who can access medical information important to their well-being goes into effect Oct. 15.

    The law, introduced by Rep. Drew Gattine, allows a patient admitted to a hospital to designate a caregiver whose contact information must be entered into the patient’s medical records and who must be able to participate, at the patient’s request, in discharge planning.

    “Many of us have helped care for the people we love, whether it’s cooking a meal, feeding a cat or helping out with laundry,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “When medical issues arise, the stakes are higher. Family caregivers play a critical role in making sure that a loved one’s transition home is successful. Given the right level of instruction, caregivers play a critical role in assuring that aftercare needs are met and healing can continue.”

    Under the law, if the patient or patient’s legal guardian provides written consent to release medical information to the designated caregiver, the hospital is required to notify the caregiver prior to the patient’s being discharged or transferred, consult with the caregiver as to the patient’s discharge plan and provide the caregiver any necessary instruction in providing aftercare to the patient if the patient is discharged to the patient’s residence.

    Family caregivers in Maine provided 165 million hours of care – worth an estimated $2.2 billion – to their parents, spouses, partners and other adult loved ones in 2013, according to AARP Public Policy Institute’s new report, Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update.

    “Effective caregivers also have the potential to save health care dollars by cutting down on readmissions,” said Gattine. “This law provides much-needed support to our seniors.”

    Rich Livingston, president of AARP Maine, testified in favor of the legislation at its public hearing in April. 

    “Almost half of family caregivers perform medical or nursing tasks for their loved ones with multiple chronic physical and cognitive conditions,” said Livingston. “Three out of four caregivers who provide these medical or nursing tasks manage medications, including administering intravenous fluids and injections. Yet most family caregivers report that they received little or no training to perform these tasks. Because there are simply not enough professional homecare workers, or resources to pay for them or pay them adequately, family caregivers are often the only way that many older Mainers are able to remain largely independent.”

    Gattine is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Westbrook.

  • Maine's food self-sufficiency law goes into effect Oct. 15, 2015

    By Ramona du Houx

    A law to encourage food self-sufficiency in the state goes into effect Oct. 15.

    “It is the policy of the state to be food self-sufficient. This law strengthens that policy by encouraging people to grow, process and preserve their own food to feed themselves, their families and their communities,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop (photo right), sponsor of the measure. “It also addresses the current shortage of available farm workers for the many new and expanding small-scale family farms that are taking advantage of the growing local foods movement.”

    The law directs the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to develop and administer an agricultural jobs network. It links farms and facilities that process agricultural products grown in Maine with available workers who are involved in farming or a local food industry, or who are required to perform community service.

    It also directs the department to develop an educational marketing campaign to promote food self-sufficiency by encouraging the public to grow gardens, raise farm animals and preserve garden-grown food.

    The new law also requires the Department of Agriculture to purchase food that is grown, harvested, prepared, processed and produced in Maine when purchasing food for an emergency or supplemental food program for elderly or low-income people whenever possible.

    Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.  He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth.

    (boy admires a watermelon at the Common Ground Fair. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

  • Mobile Bus Market Brings Produce to Lewiston-Auburn, Bath

     

     

    A bus provisioned with food has been driving through the streets of Lewiston, Auburn and Bath providing residents more opportunities to purchase fresh produce.  The old fashioned Maine corner store has disappeared from city centers, replaced by supermarkets, nick-knack stores or upscale shops. 

    "There's often a disconnect between where people live and their transportation situation and can they get to a farmers market. Can they even get to a grocery store?" asked Karen Voci, president of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. "And this takes it to them and it's going to go to the same stop all the time."

    The Foundation provided a $60,000 grant to the partnered non-profits: Cultivating Community and St. Mary's Nutrition Center for the bus.

     "In 2013 we surveyed actually 64 stores in Lewiston where you could buy food to take home," said Kirsten Walter of the St. Mary's Nutrition Center. "And of those 64 stores, only seven offered a variety of healthy foods. And in fact, the ones that were easily accessible by walking and by bus were up to 40 percent more expensive for that same healthy food."

    It’s difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables downtown. 

    "A healthy community also has a robust economy, and much of the food is actually coming from Maine farms, and we're particularly excited about that synergy," said Craig LaPine of Cultivating Community during the inaugurals bus run in September. He said the food bus is an important step toward improving the community's health.

    The bus will visit designated stops Wednesdays through Fridays through October, then will start back up in the spring.

  • Hearing on Gov. LePage's food stamp asset test shows his proposal is wrong

    photos and article by Ramona du Houx

    The hearing for Governor Paul LePage's  “asset test” for applicants to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps was held October 6, 2015 in Augusta, Maine. 

    Mainers with assets topping $5,000 and who don’t have children will be ineligible for food stamps under LePage’s new plan announced September 16th by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. The assets to be counted, if the new rule is applied, will include bank account balances, snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, recreational vehicles, campers and other valuable assets, according to a news release.

    For years, the state has waived the asset test in recognition that Mainers need assistance, not judgment, in their moments of need.

    “Our social safety net is designed to catch people before they fall far enough to hit rock bottom. For many Mainers who are down on their luck, SNAP is the first line of defense against the downward spiral of poverty,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland.

    The average monthly SNAP benefit per person in Maine is below the national average. According to the USDA, the federal agency that administers SNAP to states, among all the states Maine ranks 50th in the average SNAP benefit per household. 

    “Food stamps are meant to temporarily keep people afloat long enough to prevent them from becoming destitute,” said Alfond. “Who are we to judge our most needy neighbors before extending a helping hand? We shouldn’t be building needless barriers between them and the help they need.”

    LePage has often stated that SNAP and other benefits "cost" the state too much. But the truth is SNAP and those other benefits are federally funded.

    “Common sense says that someone with a ton of cash on hand isn’t truly needy,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “But Governor LePage and Commissioner Mayhew are willing to make someone’s ability to eat contingent on whether they’re able to sell their beat-up snowmobile on Uncle Henry’s. What next? Grandma can’t buy groceries until she sells her engagement ring? They need to focus on growing economic opportunity and moving people into sustainable employment rather than adding a layer of bureaucracy to government that does nothing to save taxpayer dollars or help people in real need.”

    DHHS estimates that the rule change would affect about 8,600 people who are on food stamps. Maine has already reduced the number of Mainers collecting food stamps by over 5,000. A new rule implemented by the LePage administration requires able-bodied 18- to 49-year-old adults to either be working or in an active job search in order to receive food stamps.

    “This policy contradicts the spirit of programs like SNAP, which is meant to help Mainers get back on their feet,” said Sen. Anne Haskell of Portland, the Senate Democratic lead on the Health and Human Services Committee. “We should be encouraging recipients to save money and build for the future, not forcing them into destitution before we offer a helping hand. The safety net only works if it catches people before they hit rock bottom — not after.”

    LePage is bucking the national trend of state’s moving away from asset tests. Today, 36 states -- including many with Republican governors -- waive asset tests entirely, up from just 12 states in 2008. Those states recognize that the policy discourages the saving and asset-building necessary to climb the economic ladder.

    “A SNAP recipient trying to buy a car to get to and from work will be punished for saving $5,000,” Haskell said. “They’ll be kicked off the program, and forced to decide between transportation and food. We should be encouraging saving, not punishing it.”

    SNAP recipients already face an income test, which cuts off benefits for individuals who earn gross annual incomes of more than $21,775.

    As LePage's policy is based on Federal SNAP policy the governor's plan does not need legislative approval and will become law.Here are some more facts about SNAP:

     

    MYTH: Maine’s SNAP program is too generous.

    FACT: The average monthly SNAP benefit per person in Maine is below the national average. In fact, among all the states, plus Guam and the Virgin Islands, Maine ranks 50th in the average SNAP benefit per household.

     

    MYTH: The asset test will save the state money.

    FACT: All SNAP benefits are paid for by the federal government, not the State of Maine. The state’s only costs are administrative so, if anything, this asset test will cost the state taxpayers’ money.

     

    MYTH: SNAP is a “lifestyle” program, with recipients staying on food stamps for a long time.

    FACT: More than one-quarter of SNAP recipients leave the program before four months, and more than half leave before one year, according to the USDA.

    MYTH: Able-bodied, childless adults are weighing down the SNAP program.

    FACT: As food insecurity in Maine increases, one of the most affected groups is seniors. The number of Maine seniors who rely on SNAP to fight hunger has increased 32 percent in the past five years. Maine’s elderly residents often live on low, fixed incomes. They should not be punished for having saved for retirement, or squirreled away money to keep their homes warm.

  • Maine has found how to keep the poor in poverty

    A savings account can be a powerful thing, especially for someone struggling to make ends meet. A little extra money on the side—even the tiniest of sums—can be a life-preserving cushion in the case of an unexpected injury, illness, or sudden unemployment. Building a financial base can also be a ticket out of poverty for families long relegated to economic hardship.

    In Maine, though, the governor has fired up a debate about whether an individual can have a bit of money in the bank and still need governmental assistance. Starting as early as Nov. 1, Maine  is going to limit the financial assets of welfare recipients, effectively discouraging them from saving money.

    The state will place a $5,000 cap on the savings and other assets of residents enrolled in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Those whose bank accounts, secondary vehicles and homes, and other assets considered non-essential by the government, exceed the limit will no longer be eligible to participate in the food stamp program. An individual's primary home and vehicle won't count toward the limit.

    The thinking, according to the Gov. Paul LePage's office, is simple: People shouldn't be allowed to take money from the government if they don't need to. "Most Mainers would agree that before someone receives taxpayer-funded welfare benefits, they should sell non-essential assets and use their savings,” LePage said in a written statement.

    "What people see, what they're concerned about these days, is the abuse of the welfare system," added David Sorensen, who is the director of media relations and policy research for Maine's Department of Health and Human Services. "Well, it's an abuse to enroll in the system when you've got $5,000 in the bank."

    But the unintended consequences of asset tests, like the one soon to be implemented in Maine, can be crippling, according to a growing pool of people who oppose such requirements. They argue that impoverished Americans, hoping to break from the cycle of poverty, are instead further bound by it. Many in Maine, struggling to make ends meet, will no longer put money aside, since doing so could jeopardize their ability to eat.

    "There's a reason most states have moved away from asset tests," said Ezra Levin, who is the associate director of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit organization that fights poverty. Levin specializes in tax and asset-building policies, and is highly critical of LePage's plan. "The tests are counterproductive. They don't help people become self-sufficient. They actually do just the opposite."

    Up until 1996, federal assistance programs were more preoccupied with providing indefinite income support than lifting families out of poverty. That year, President Clinton signed the 'Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,' which effectively flipped the goal around. But many quirks about the programs, including their reliance on asset tests, weren't reconsidered along with their central purpose.

    Today, asset tests have become unpopular. Increasingly, they have been viewed as inhibitors to self-sufficiency—people need to build a safety net, in the form of savings or assets, before they can transition away from government aid.

    Only a handful of states, including Michigan, Wyoming, and Virginia, still require that food stamp recipients pass such exams. The rest—36 in all—have chosen to drop them in recent years. Most recently, Pennsylvania shed the practice.

    Levin is not alone in his disapproval of the Maine governor's plan. Amy Fried, who teaches political science at the University of Maine, penned an opinion piece for local newspaper Bangor Daily News on Tuesday, detailing how the policy will hurt low income students hoping to save for college. Rachel Black, who is a senior policy analyst for New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, told the Portland Press Herald last month that the legislation is "antithetical to the idea of promoting self-sufficiency."

    Perhaps the most poignant criticism comes from an investigation published in 2013 by the Deseret News. The piece chronicles the struggles of Melissa and Jimmy, a couple living on food stamps. They saved money to ween themselves off of the program, but were forced off too soon, thanks to asset limits. They had no choice but to spend some of their savings so they could afford to eat.

    "It felt like a no-win situation," Melissa told the Deseret News. "We were being forced to choose between what is good for our family in the long term and what our kids need right now."

    Sorensen acknowledges that the forthcoming legislation has met ample disapproval. He says the governor's office expects the criticism to grow louder as the mechanics are implemented. But he believes the governor's plan is more careful than many realize. 

    "We're not penalizing anyone for having an IRA account or a 401K," he said. "We don't include personal items either, as some have people have suggested. The truth is that we're not actually being very strict about this."

    Sorensen points to the fact that the USDA's default limit for bank accounts is $2,250, less than half the cap that will be implemented in Maine, as evidence of the program's leniency (though the default limit is neither binding nor adhered to by many states anymore). He also notes that it only applies to people without dependents (i.e. children).

    But that's less generous than it sounds, says Levin. "Just because someone doesn't have officially registered dependents doesn't mean there aren't people who depend on them," he said.

    Currently, a household of one can earn no more than $1,276 of gross income per month in order to receive food stamps. That same household can qualify for up to $194 dollars a month, or fewer than $7 dollars day, as part of SNAP,according to the Department of Agriculture. It doesn't take much math to figure out that neither that kind of income nor the daily food allowance affords any kind of lavish lifestyle.

    "If someone manages to save money while earning next to nothing, why would we punish them for it?" Levin said. "Why would we discourage sound financial practices?"

    The number of welfare recipients has shot up in Maine in recent years, largely thanks to the recession, but there is little evidence to suggest there is rampant abuse of the system. Studies have, in fact, suggested that the opposite is true. Only a tiny fraction of welfare recipients have enough in their bank accounts to fail the sort of asset test soon to be implemented in Maine.

    Gov. LePage's policy is part of what Levin calls a long history of complicating the plight of the poor in America. The problem, he says, is that there's so much focus on people who don't deserve support that the people who do are made to suffer.

    "Normally it's Republicans who support programs that create incentives for poor people to save," Levin says. "The crux of conservative thinking around welfare is that people shouldn't grow dependent, but this policy does exactly that."

    LePage says asset tests are necessary if his state is going to rein in a system he believes has grown too large for its own good. "What the governor is doing is breaking the cycle of generational dependency," Sorensen said. "Our goal here in Maine is to change the culture, and change the expectations of the system."

    Janet Smith, a grassroots activist in Maine who helps impoverished communities with financial capability and asset building, sees only irony in that statement. "One of the few ways to break out of generational poverty is to build assets, to save money," she says. "The governor is effectively closing that window."

    Poverty involves a complex web of sacrifices that policymakers aren't always privy to, she says. To demonstrate that disconnect, Smith tells the story of a man she once worked with, who couldn't afford to live on a street that was regularly plowed during the winters—which are long in Maine. Each day, he was forced to use a beat-up snowmobile to get from his home to his car, an unconventional but necessary step. From there he drove to work. And at day's end, the process repeated itself, in opposite order.

    "I'm not saying SNAP recipients need snowmobiles," Smith says. "What I'm saying is that we're focusing on the wrong things."

  • Pingree says government shutdown threatens food stamps for 230,000 Mainers

     Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said if Congress fails to pass aspending bill by the end of this month and forces a government shutdown, 45million people, including 230,000 in Maine, could lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps) on October 1st.

    "A politically motivated government shutdown would be a real hardship for thousands of Maine families, veterans and seniors who depend on food stamps to help make ends meet each month," Pingree said.  "It's shameful that some Congressional Republicans are trying to use their opposition to Planned Parenthood to force a government shutdown at the expense of families struggling to put food on the table."

    During the last government shutdown, Recovery Act funding was able to keep the food stamp program running, but that funding has run out and now the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not have enough funding to cover the cost of food stamps in October and may be forced to shut down the program on October 1st.

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides monthly food benefits to 45 million Americans.

    "If Congress does not act to avert a lapse in appropriations, then USDA will not have the funding necessary for SNAP benefits in October and will be forced to stop providing benefits within the first several days of October," a USDA spokesperson said in an email. "Once that occurs, families won’t be able to use these benefits at grocery stores to buy the food their families need." 

    Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and sits on the Appropriations subcommittee that provides funding for USDA. 

  • Census data teveals Maine is the only state that has not Increased the percentage of people with health insurance since the Obamacare, ACA, passage

    Maine has fallen to from 10th to 24th in the nation for percentage of people with health coverage since 2010.

    New Census Bureau data shows a bleak picture for Maine when it comes to improving access to affordable health coverage. Maine is the only state that has not experienced an increase in the percentage of people with health insurance coverage since passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010.

    Before then, under Governor John Baldacci's Dirgo Health Care agency more Mainers had health insurance coverage than ever before. Mainers from every background and income levels. But Gov. LePage dismantled Dirgo Health Care. The new census data also show that Maine currently ranks 24th in the nation in percentage of those with health coverage - down from 10th in 2010.

    Approximately 134,000 or 10.1 percent of Mainers lacked access to health insurance in 2014, statistically the same as in 2010.

    Maine is the only state that hasn't seen any improvement in health coverage since 2010. Every other state can boast the exact opposite.

    Other states are covering more people and they have a lower percentage of their population without insurance. While a big driver of this is expanded Medicaid, even those states that haven't accepted federal funds to provide health care to low-income residents are still seeing significant gains in health coverage thanks to other provisions of the ACA.

    This Census data makes clear that Mainers are bearing the brunt of the LePage administration's failed health care policy. The governor's success in cutting access to health care for low-income individuals and parents in his first term and his continued opposition to accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid make Maine an outlier when it comes to making sure that more people have access to affordable health care. This will have lasting effects for the health of Maine people and our economy.

  • LePage Administration missed deadline for Riverview federal funds now Appropriations Committee calls for accountability

    Captitol building in Augusta, ME. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members of the Maine's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on September 14th questioned DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew about the ongoing controversies at the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Facility.

    Last month, a federal judge ruled the state had missed its chance to appeal the federal government’s decision to decertify Riverview, raising questions about the future of the hospital.

    Decertification in 2013 -- caused by overcrowding, the use of stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs on patients, failure to actually treat patients, serious paperwork issues and more --  has put at risk $28 million in federal funding so far, leaving Maine taxpayers to fill this ongoing budget gap. But instead of pulling out all the stops to obtain certification and federal funding once again, the administration has challenged the federal government on its own standards.

    “The department’s failure to meet the deadline for appeal makes me wonder how committed this administration is regaining federal certification,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, a Democrat from Saco. “Certification is a critical source of funding and without it Maine taxpayers will have to come up with an additional $20 million in this budget. But instead of solutions, this administration favors legal gymnastics in an effort to absolve themselves of any responsibility.”

    The Legislature has already responded to the crisis at Riverview by passing five emergency funding bills totaling $5 million. While other states manage to run psychiatric facilities that safeguard patient treatment and worker safety, the LePage administration has failed time and again to meet even the most basic standards.

    Riverview is the only hospital in the state that has failed to meet minimum federal standards.

    “For two years now the Legislature has approved request after request from the LePage administration for emergency funding for the hospital with little progress to date,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chair of the Appropriations committee. “Instead of taking responsibility, the administration is blaming the federal government, the workers and the Legislature for its failures. Five years ago, when this administration took over we had a hospital that was certified now we don’t.”  

    Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, pressed Mayhew for details on the administration’s plan to offload some patients at Riverview to an undetermined private corporation.

    We must have details on this plan before we can consider such a seismic shift in how the state treats these patients,” said Grant. “So far, we have not been provided nearly the level of information we need to consider such a change.”

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will meet again on October 14.

  • Lewiston State House Delegation urges action to fill vacant Veteran Center positions

    Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    State lawmakers from Lewiston have sent a letter to their U.S. Congressional delegation, urging action to fill critical counseling positions at the Lewiston Veteran Center. 

    According to a Sun Journal report, the center is operating with less than half its authorized counseling staff, and has been without a team leader for two years, despite the previous leader giving seven months of notice before leaving. 

    "Failure to fill these positions with competent, qualified individuals is a serious health and safety concern for our veterans, not to mention a great disservice to those who deserve the benefits they have earned," the Lewiston lawmakers wrote. 

    Maine Sen. Nate Libby and Reps. Peggy Rotundo, Michel Lajoie, Heidi Brooks and Jared Golden all signed the letters, which were sent to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. The state lawmakers urged the congressional delegation to “work with all expediency and effort to bring the VA Administration's focused attention to our Veteran Center's serious staffing deficiencies,” and respectfully asked for periodic updates on this important issue.

    The Veteran Center provides several services, including counseling for combat veterans and their families, as well as counseling for victims of military sexual trauma and grief counseling for family members of service men and women killed in action. 

  • Treatment critical in the drug epidemic battle in Maine

     

    LePage should follow the lead of Mainers fighting addiction on the front lines

    Editorial by Representative Mark Dion of Portland.  

    Imagine a loved one – your spouse, brother or sister, or daughter or son – in the grip of drug addiction, trying to break free but unable to get the help they need. This nightmare is the reality for far too many families as Maine grapples with its heroin epidemic.

    Before I was in the Legislature, I was the sheriff of Cumberland County.  I can tell you that jail isn’t the solution to Maine’s drug crisis.

    For too long, there’s been an overemphasis on law enforcement efforts without an equally determined commitment to prevention and treatment. Believe me when I say that an unbalanced approach to addiction just spins the criminal justice merry-go-round faster and faster. I’ve seen it with my own eyes – too many times.

    Heroin overdose deaths in Maine have jumped from seven in 2010 to 57 last year. There are no signs that the future will be any better. Earlier this month, at least 14 people overdosed in Portland alone during a 24-hour period.

    We can’t afford to take the outdated approach of trying to arrest ourselves out of this epidemic. Treatment can no longer take a back seat in our state strategy to reduce the threat posed by the ever-increasing presence of drug addiction in our communities.

    That’s why I was encouraged to hear law enforcement officials who participated in Governor LePage’s closed-door drug summit say that Maine needs a comprehensive approach.

    I hope the governor follows their lead. He has a history of opposing efforts to help people with addiction.

    He’s fought measures to put the life-saving overdose medication Narcan in more hands and to encourage addicts to call 911 to report an overdose event. He’s also leaving federal dollars on the table that could go toward treatment.

    And this week, just a couple of days before the governor’s public safety summit, a nonprofit addiction treatment facility in Sanford said it will close its doors. They said it was because of the LePage administration’s lack of funding support for treatment. It’s the second addiction treatment center this year to announce it is shutting down.

    The LePage administration is also cancelling its contract with the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, which provides much-needed direct services, educational outreach and relapse-prevention support to addicts and their families.  

    Mainers trying to battle drug addiction were already having a hard time getting help. They languish on wait lists, unable to get the care they need.

    Inadequate funding for these health centers will only increase the demand for drugs and do