Currently showing posts tagged healthcare in Maine

  • Eastern Maine Medical Center nurses hold candlelight vigil on critical safe staffing concern in Bangor

    Bangor, MAINE Registered nurses with the Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) held a candlelight vigil August 30, 2018 in the evening to shine a light on a critical safe staffing concern at the medical facility in Bangor, Maine.

    The vigil was sponsored by the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA), the union that represents the 850 EMMC nurses.

    The nurses gathered with concerned community members and former EMMC patients to highlight the importance of a key safe staffing proposal currently under negotiation with EMMC management. Registered nurses are demanding that charge nurses no longer be assigned patients so they can devote their attention to their specific and critical assignment: mentoring newer nurses, addressing emergencies as they arise and assisting other nurses.

    “It is critical that charge nurses be focused on their own duties, their expertise and input are vitally important to maintain the highest level of care,” said MSNA President and EMMC nurse, Cokie Giles. “This is a critical safe staffing issue. Charge nurses must be available to assist other nurses on the floor, mentor newer nurses and handle emergencies as they come up. When our charge nurses have to take patient assignments, they are not available to do the job they’re assigned to do, and that can potentially compromise the safety of our patients.”   

    EMMC forces charge nurses to take patient assignments regularly, when it is convenient for management, and in a manner that is not consistent with safe staffing, say nurses. 

    “Safe patient staffing, with the mentoring of an experienced charge nurse is best for patient care,” said Lisa Oliver, co-chair of the union’s professional practice committee and member of the union bargaining team. “The hospital administration must adequately staff the hospital so we can better protect our patients and give them the care they deserve.”

  • Health Care advocates sue Gov. LePage to force compliance with Medicaid Expansion Law

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About Amazon

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

    About Berkshire

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

    About JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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

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

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.


  • 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. 
    (On Feb, 8 PBS aired a new article on immunotherapy see it HERE.
    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!
  • 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."

  • 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:


    LD #








    An Act To Ensure the Safety of Home Birth







    An Act To Improve the Evaluation of Public Schools







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






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




    An Act To Clarify Expenditures Regarding Androscoggin County






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

    Hickman (introducer)





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







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

    Dion (introducer)





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

    Kornfield (Introducer)






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







    An Act To Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Injected Drugs







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







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

    Pierce, T





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







    An Act To Authorize Advance Deposit Wagering for Horse Racing







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







    An Act Regarding the Maine Clean Election Fund






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







    An Act To Clarify Medicaid Managed Care Ombudsman Services







    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






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






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






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







    An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program







    Resolve, To Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund







    An Act To Amend the Child Protective Services Laws







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






    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)





    An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses







    An Act To Improve the Safety of Ferries in the State







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







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







    An Act To Amend the Finance Authority of Maine Act






  • 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

  • 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.


    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.


    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.

  • 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."

  • 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. 

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • $1.7 million in federal funding for new community health center in South Portland

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced on August 20, 2015 that the Portland Community Health Center will receive a federal Affordable Care Act grant to open a new community health center in South Portland.
    The New Access Point Community Health Center grant—administered by the Department of Health and Human Services—will provide $355,848 for start-up costs and $650,000 annually for the next two years.
    “This is fantastic news for the area. The nation’s network of health centers is critical to providing quality health care to 1 in every 14 Americans. I’m thrilled that we will now have one to serve the South Portland community,” said Pingree. “I applaud Portland Community Health Center and its partners in identifying the need for these services in South Portland and winning this competitive funding. This community health center will make a huge difference for Mainers who are struggling to afford care—a number that has increased because of the state’s refusal to expand access to Medicaid.”
    An exact location for the South Portland Community Health Center has not been determined, but plans call for it to be in South Portland’s Redbank/Brick Hill area. South Portland has an estimated 17,000 low-income individuals and families. As housing costs have become more expensive in Portland, South Portland has seen this number increase, as well as growing refugee, immigrant, and homeless populations. Through partnerships with the South Portland Housing Authority and South Portland Public Schools, the center hopes to effectively reach these target groups.
    “This is a wonderful opportunity to develop model programs and services for the people of South Portland that promote good health and wellness for all,” said Portland Community Health Center CEO Leslie Clark. “We look forward to working closely with patients and organizations in South Portland to create a vibrant new center, which will open in December.”
    The new center will have a focus on primary and preventive care, chronic disease management, mental health and substance abuse. At the end of the two-year-grant—after which it can reapply for continued federal funding—the center expects to have provided over 4,500 patient visits. The announcement comes during National Health Center Week, as health centers across the country celebrate the 50th anniversary of the federal program. Portland Community Health Center opened its first center in Portland in 2009 with assistance from the same New Access Point federal grant. In all, this Affordable Care Act program has helped create more than 700 new health center sites across the country.
  • Maine's Jackson Lab to recieve $800K for research on aging

    Maine's Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor has received a $835,037 federal grant to support its continuing research on the aging process. The laboratory is reknowned for genitic reserach with mice. They also ship mice worldwide to other scientific institutions.

    This award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support Jackson Lab's Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, which combines the practices of biology and genomics to develop a better understanding of how aging works.

    The Center is located in a building a voter-approved bond issued helped to support during the Baldacci administration. LePage has not even considered putting research and development bonds out to voters. Meanwhile Jackson Laboratory and others help strengthen Maine's economy and quality of life.

    Maine has the oldest population in America.

    "The work done by Jackson Laboratory has significantly expanded our knowledge of human genetics," Sen. Collins and Sen. King said in a joint statement. "As the baby boomer generation enters retirement, it is vital that we continue to expand our knowledge of the aging process."

  • Maine Legislation to help children with dyslexia becomes law

     A bill to make sure that schoolchildren with dyslexia get the assistance they need to succeed became law on Sunday.

    “When students with dyslexia are identified early and get the help they need, the results are incredible,” said Rep. Terry Morrison, D- South Portland, the lead sponsor of the measure. “We need to get these kids the proper support as soon as possible.”

    Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by trouble reading despite a normal intelligence. Problems may include sounding out words, spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, pronouncing words when reading aloud and understanding what was read.

    “Dyslexia is serious, but it can be overcome with the right assistance at the right time,” said Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, a co-sponsor. “This new law will help make sure that happens.”

    With proper assistance and personalized support, dyslexics can learn to read.  The earlier a dyslexic child is identified, the more successful the intervention.

    “This law will put the right tools in the hands of educators to identify and help students with dyslexia,” said Rep. Kim Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth, another co-sponsor.  “It will make a real difference.” 

    Some famous people who were diagnosed with dyslexia include Jay Leno, Steve Jobs and Pablo Picasso.

    “The costs, both emotional and financial, of not helping a student with dyslexia are very great,” said Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, who also co-sponsored the measure.

    LD 231, which the Legislature passed on June 30, was among the measures that became law without the governor’s signature. The governor has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign or veto a bill. If he does not take either of those actions, the bill becomes law if the Legislature has not finally adjournent. 

    The bill goes into effect 90 days after the Legislature finally adjourns. The Legislature will be in session on July 16 to address any vetoes issued by the governor as prescribed by the Maine Constitution.

  • President Barack Obama's statement on the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act

    While Maine has not accepted funds for the Affordable Care Act that would cover 70,000 Mainers other states have and there is hope. On June 25th the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to keep it as the law of the land.

    Here is President Barack Obama's statement on the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act:

    On March 23, 2010, I sat down at a table in the East Room of the White House and signed my name on a law that said, once and for all, that health care would no longer be a privilege for a few. It would be a right for everyone.

    Five years later, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law and multiple challenges before the Supreme Court, here is what we know today:

    This law worked. It's still working. It has changed and saved American lives. It has set this country on a smarter, stronger course.

    And it's here to stay.

    This morning, (June 25,2015) the Supreme Court upheld one of the most critical parts of health reform -- the part that has made it easier for Americans to afford health insurance, no matter where you live.

    If the challenges to this law had succeeded, millions would have had thousands of dollars in tax credits taken away. Insurance would have once again become unaffordable for many Americans. Many would have even become uninsured again. Ultimately, everyone's premiums could have gone up.

    Because of this law, and because of today's decision, millions of Americans will continue to receive the tax credits that have given about 8 in 10 people who buy insurance on the new Health Insurance Marketplaces the choice of a health care plan that costs less than $100 a month.

    If you're a parent, you can keep your kids on your plan until they turn 26 -- something that has covered millions of young people so far. That's because of this law. If you're a senior, or have a disability, this law gives you discounts on your prescriptions -- something that has saved 9 million Americans an average of $1,600 so far. If you're a woman, you can't be charged more than anybody else -- even if you've had cancer, or your husband had heart disease, or just because you're a woman. Your insurer has to offer free preventive services like mammograms. They can't place annual or lifetime caps on your care.

    And when it comes to preexisting conditions -- someday, our grandkids will ask us if there was really a time when America discriminated against people who got sick. Because that's something this law has ended for good.

    Five years in and more than 16 million insured Americans later, this is no longer just about a law. This isn't just about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

    This is health care in America.

    Today is a victory for every American whose life will continue to become more secure because of this law. And 20, 30, 50 years from now, most Americans may not know what "Obamacare" is. And that's okay. That's the point.

    Because today, this reform remains what it always has been -- a set of fairer rules and tougher protections that have made health care in America more affordable, more attainable, and more about you.

    That's who we are as Americans. We look out for one another. We take care of each other. We root for one another's success. We strive to do better, to be better, than the generation before us, and we try to build something better for the generation that comes behind us.

    And today, with this behind us, let's come together and keep building something better. That starts right now.

    Thank you,

    President Barack Obama

  • Maine House unanimously votes for measure to boost pay for direct care workers

     By Ramona du Houx

    Maine House on June 13, 2015 gave final approval to a bipartisan measure to increase pay for in-home care workers by unanimous consent. The vote proved that Maine lawmakers can still work together for the health and well being of the state's citizens.

    “Lawmakers came together to do right by our seniors and those who care for them,” said bill sponsor House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “A stronger direct care workforce will also make it possible for seniors to stay in their homes and remain independent. ”

    Eves worked on the proposal with House Minority Leader Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who introduced a similar bill.  The amended bill, LD 1350, combines both proposals from Eves and Espling. It would increase reimbursement rates to providers of in-home direct-care services by 66 percent to nearly $25 per hour.  

    The proposal to raise pay for direct care workers is one of the key components of Speaker Eves’ Keep ME Home initiative to help older adults in Maine live independently longer.

    During a public hearing on the proposal, in-home care workers and the seniors they care for urged support for the pay boost.

    “I have a wonderful homecare worker that helps me a few times a week.  This is what keeps me in my beloved home and gives me my independence,” said Ray Polley, a senior from Wales who receives in-home care every week in order to stay in his home.  “If I had to move out there would be a part of me that wouldn’t be there anymore.”

    Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, a homecare worker from Westbrook, said she loved caring for her clients, but the pay is not enough to support her family.

    “I have been working as a home care worker for the last seven years.  I work 48 hours a week, in a job that is hard and stressful, but I still don’t make enough to pay all my bills,” said Manirakiza.

    The measure faces further votes in the Senate.

  • Speaker Eves’ Keep ME Home plan for seniors to age with dignity and proper care in their communities

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine is the oldest state in the nation. One in four Mainers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to U.S. census projections. The rapid aging of Maine’s population and workforce has significant implications for economic growth and is challenging employers, health systems, municipalities and state leaders to find ways to attract and retain workers, create new housing options, and to deliver services to enable seniors to remain healthy and able to live in their own homes.

    Maine Speaker of the House Mark Eves and the Maine Council on Aging (MCOA) are engaged in a collaborative initiative to help seniors with these issues.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves talking about his KeepME program. Photo credit MPBN

    “I was very compelled to put a focus on these issues. It’s gratifying to be engaged in this initiative and to be able to lead it, as Speaker, with an incredible group of people from The Maine Council on Ageing,” said Eves.

    They started with Round Table meetings in 2013 where more than 500 community, business, finance, education and policy leaders discussed the issues in depth.  “We had a great cross-section of society represented at the four meetings. We also went to Washington D.C. and met with the Congressional Delegation, and will be returning to attend the White House Summit on Ageing.”

    On January 17, 2014, the Maine Summit on Aging attracted nearly 400 participants from around Maine who added to a conversation and planning process that formed the basis for the Maine Aging Initiative. That led to the Speaker’s KeepME Home plan.

    “At the summit we changed the conversation from this is a real challenge to this is a great opportunity for the state to lead,” said Eves. “We are the oldest state. We need to embrace it. We need to show the way.”

    MCOA is a group made up of 30 different organizations focused on aging issues in our state, one of them is AARP and they held a telephone town hall.

    “12,000 people called in from all over the state, and heard Sen. Burns and myself talk about the initiative. They were engaged and we answered a lot of questions,” said Eves. “It was incredible.”

    The Speaker also convened a Legislative Caucus highlighting the priorities generated from all the meetings. At every step of the way the Speaker has ensured the initiative received bi-partisan support, working with Republican Sen. Burns and others. Aging has no political bias.

    The Speaker’s KeepME Home plan has bills under consideration that would:

    1. Boost pay for in-home care workers who have not had a raise in nearly a decade;
    2. Expand property tax credits for seniors;
    3. Create affordable housing for seniors in each of Maine’s 16 counties through a $65 million housing bond.


    Step 1: Boosting homecare workers pay to meet a crisis—


    When family caregivers are not available to provide all the necessary assistance for seniors paid home care workers fill the gap.

    In Maine nine out of 10 people want to age at home, rather than move to a nursing home. But there is a shortage of homecare workers and part of the reason why is due to the low wages that have forced many into poverty.

    “Raising the profile around the crises that is happening in our direct care workforce is important. If we don’t do something about it now—It’s going to get worse and worse and worse,” said Eves. “We are doing right by our seniors and those who care for them. The need is dramatic. A stronger direct care workforce will make it possible for more seniors to stay in their homes, and remain independent.”

    Maine’s reimbursement rate for home and personal care services has been stuck at about $15 an hour since 2006, when the Baldaccci administration and lawmakers increased it. Home care agencies pay their workers about $9 an hour, and the remaining $6 an hour covers a variety of administrative, operational and training costs.

    “It’s hard to retain people if they aren’t earning a decent salary. It’s difficult, emotional work. Some are live-in workers. They are always on call and need special training,” said Eves. “The increase of wages should help retain good workers; otherwise you have a revolving door and end up with workers who don’t have enough experience to do a quality job.”

    Home care workers earn a little over $20,000 a year, on average, according to the Maine Department of Labor. But most of them have to provide their own transportation to and from clients’ homes, no matter the distance, so their real pay is a considerably less.

    Eves's bill calls for the rate to be raised to $25/hour. The bill requires that at least 85 percent of the increase "must be used for wages and employee benefits including health care, mileage reimbursement, training costs and other benefits."

    Increasing homecare workers pay is more cost effective than the nursing home option. MaineCare spent an average of $558 per month for each client who received personal care services at home in 2010, compared with $4,150 per month for each nursing home resident during the same year, according to a 2012 analysis by the Muskie School of Public Service.

    Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, a homecare worker from Westbrook, said at the public hearing that she loved caring for her clients, but the pay is not enough to support her family. Manirakiza cares for an 80-year-old woman who needs help with bathing, dressing, toileting, making meals, managing medications, and running errands.

    “I have been working as a home care worker for the last seven years.  I work 48 hours a week, in a job that is hard and stressful, but I still don’t make enough to pay all my bills,” said Manirakiza. She receives no employee benefits, gets health insurance through MaineCare and has to live in subsidized housing. “We do delicate, important, often difficult work. I care about people. But this job doesn’t pay enough.”

    Manirakiza is one of more than 10,000 home health and personal care workers in Maine who need a pay raise.

    Eves worked on the proposal with House Minority Leader Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who introduced a similar bill.

    “We have a significant number of seniors living here in Maine and many of them want to stay in their homes,” said Espling. “These bills ensure that services are available to our seniors so families have the support they need to continue to care for their loved ones in the comfort of their homes.”

    The amended bill, LD 1350, combines both proposals from Eves and Espling. It would increase reimbursement rates to providers of in-home direct-care services by 66 percent to nearly $25 per hour.

    During a public hearing on the proposal, in-home care workers and the seniors they care for urged support for the pay boost.

    “I have a wonderful homecare worker that helps me a few times a week.  This is what keeps me in my beloved home and gives me my independence,” said Ray Polley, a senior from Wales.  “If I had to move out there would be a part of me that wouldn’t be there anymore.”

    DHHS agrees that there is a need to increase the pay for direct care workers to attract and keep dedicated employees.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves in his office at the State House in Augusta. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Homecare workers are a growing job sector in Maine—


    Homecare workers make up the fastest growing occupation in the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2010 and 2020 the demand for personal care aides will increase 71 percent and will produce more than 600,000 new jobs nationally.

    In Maine, the overall job growth between 2008 and 2018 is projected to be just 2 percent, yet for personal care aides, it’s projected at 26 percent.

    “If we ignore the poor working conditions that cause care providers to be distracted and stressed due to their financial insecurity, we are compromising the care that people receive. Current staffing shortages and increased demand means that we need to do something now to attract and retain quality employees,” said Ted Rippy, a home care worker and board member of Food AND Medicine.

    Annual turnover rates for homecare workers range between 25 and 50 percent depending upon the agency. This causes concerns for home care agencies and directly affects their clients.

    SeniorsPlus, a Lewiston-based agency needs more workers to provide home care services for 471 clients, said Betsy Sawyer-Manter, executive director. “We have many people who have been approved for services but are going without because there aren’t enough people to do the work.” SeniorsPlus is a member of the MCOA.

    John Wiley lives at home in Waterville and wonders about the future. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In 2013 Sandy Butler, a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Maine, completed overseeing a study on the job experiences of home care workers in Maine. The study followed a group of 261 personal support specialists for 18 months who were working for agencies serving all 16 counties of the state. More than a third of these workers quit their jobs during this time.

    Butler wrote in the Bangor Daily News that the leading reason they left, “was the inability to support themselves and their families given the low wages and the instability and part-time nature of the hours. Related compensation issues included lack of mileage reimbursement, paid sick time and paid vacations.”

    Another heartbreaking reality the study showed was that the workers who left didn’t want to for they loved their profession.

    “They enjoyed working with elders, believed — like most of us do — that it was important to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible, had high levels of job satisfaction, and generally would have chosen to continue in the field if the compensation had been better,” said Butler.

    “We hear about a worker shortage, but what we have is a wage shortage,” said Christine Gianopoulos, board chairwoman of Home Care for Maine Inc.


    Step 2: Increasing property tax relief for seniors—


    According to the state’s Revenue Services website, “nearly 200,000 Maine households qualify for a partial refund of property tax assessed and/or rent they paid in 2011.”  Maine population is around 1, 330,000 people.

    Low-income households have a high burden of property taxes, compared with higher income households making the property tax Maine’s most regressive tax. For seniors living on fixed incomes property tax increase can be incredibly debilitating and have forced many to choose between paying for medications and food or saving for their property tax bill.

    “We’re trying to increase the Circuit Breaker Program back to the level it had been, with the maximum $2,000 rebate for seniors and $1,500 for non seniors,” said Eves.

    The Speakers bill, L.D. 1095, would increase the maximum property-tax credit allowed for qualified residents age 65 and older from $900 to $2,000 per year.

    In 2013 Gov. LePage created a new  ”Property Tax Fairness Credit” to replace the state’s Circuit Breaker Program. The credit is refundable and is implemented through the state’s income tax rather than as a separate rebate. But the maximum value of the new credit is significantly less than the Circuit Breaker rebates were.

    In April, 2014, the legislature doubled the Property Tax Fairness Credit to a maximum of  $600, or $900 for those 70 or older.

    “About one in three of the lower income households pay more than 10 percent of their income in property taxes. Less than one in fifty of the higher income households pay more than 10 percent of their income in property taxes. Thus the overall burden of property taxes is highly skewed by income,” wrote economists of Maine Center of Economic Policy in a report.


    Step 3: Create a $65 million affordable housing bond—


    According to a recent study from a Massachusetts consulting firm, contracted by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, the shortage of affordable housing units by 2022 would grow to 15,000. The calculation is based on the number of people over the age of 55 spending greater than 30 percent of their income on housing.

     Sponsored by House Speaker Eves and Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, L.D. 1205 would start to fill the current need for subsidized senior housing with a $65 million bond to build about 1,000 new units in 40 buildings across the state, as well as fund improvements to existing homes to help seniors age in place.

    “We would have projects in all 16 counties that would be managed through Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA). Making sure that all counties are included is a very important piece of the language in the bond. “Still, it’s just starting to meet the incredible need out there with 9,000 seniors on the waiting list now—in a few years that’ll be 15,000.”

    The scarcity of affordable senior housing is huge. There are builders using public subsidies and tax programs to try and meet the need but they are barely scraping the barrel.

    “Basically our housing has not kept up with our longevity,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “And as the population ages, those who live on fixed incomes — like Social Security — spend more of that income on their mortgage, rent or repairs. In some cases, their homes are simply too big for them, or they’re too costly to heat in the winter.”

    According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, “low-income households aged 65 and over rely on Social Security payments for 85 percent of their incomes.”

    Currently there is a booming demand for market-rate apartments, which fetch higher rents and attract more developers.

    The kinds of apartments that the state needs for seniors most likely won’t get built without state bonds and federal help. A federal low-income housing tax credit subsidy helps to build about 90 percent of all affordable housing in the U.S. by giving tax breaks to banks or other entities that provide the investment.

    A developer applies to MSHA for one of two types of credits. Once approved by MSHA, the developer then sells that credit to a bank or other firm that can write off a percentage of the investment over the following decade. MSHA then finds other subsidies to pay the remainder, or gives the developer a loan. The federal government only allocates MSHA about $2.6 to $3 million each year in these tax credits. In 2014, MSHA was only able to approve five out of 14 proposals. Thus making the need for the bonds all that much more.

    “The decision was motivated by the fact we’ve been all over the state having community conversations with seniors finding out what they would like and what they need. We’ve found if they couldn’t stay in their immediate home they want to stay in their community,” said Eves. “We want to make sure these units are built in a way that connects the residents with the fabric of their community.  Making sure seniors have access to downtowns so they can shop and go to restaurants as well as being able to access services as they age.”

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves in his office at the State House in Augusta. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    But Governor Paul LePage has never been forthright in backing bonds and has help voter approved bonds hostage until he has gotten what he demanded from lawmakers.

    “I would hope that we could agree on the incredible need. It would be a lost opportunity if we didn’t take leadership on this issue. We can’t wait any longer. We need to start building. People across the state immediately understand the problem. It’s personal for everybody.”

  • Maine House Speaker Eves held forum on aging proposals in Brewer,

    By Ramona du Houx - October 20th, 2014 


    Maine’s House Speaker Mark Eves. Photo by Ramona du Houx.

    A statewide plan to help older adults age in their homes and communities got strong backing from local area seniors and community leaders during a forum at Brewer Medical Center, this fall.

    More than area fifty seniors, community leaders, and aging experts attended the forum with Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, who sought input on his package of bills to redirect state resources to help seniors live independently longer.

    “Brewer and Bangor are on the leading edge of our state’s rapidly aging population,” said Eves of North Berwick. ‘We heard great feedback from local leaders and seniors about what’s working here. No matter where you go in the state, seniors are concerned about rising property taxes, access to affordable housing, high heating costs and direct care services. We know these challenges are real barriers for seniors who want to live independently in their communities where they raised a generation.”

    Eves is proposing a package of measures, called the KeepME Home plan, to create affordable housing for seniors in each of Maine’s 16 counties through a $65 million housing bond; boost pay for in-home care workers who have not had a raise in nearly a decade; and expand property tax credits for seniors.

    “It’s wonderful to have our state leaders prioritize plans to help seniors age in our homes and communities,” said Audrey Dyer, who has lived in her home on Hogan Street in Bangor since 1954. “I’m fortunate to have my family around but so many Maine seniors don’t have help and are struggling with property taxes or heating their homes.”

    Dyer is the grandma of State Rep. Adam Goode of Bangor who brought her to the event. Seniors, direct care workers, and aging experts who attended the event repeated the concerns Dyer raised throughout the hour-long forum Tuesday morning.

    Maine is the oldest state in the nation. One in four Mainers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to U.S. census projections.

    Brewer Mayor Jerry Goss, Bangor Mayor Ben Sprague and local state legislators joined the forum and spoke about the leadership the cities have taken on affordable housing for seniors.

    “Brewer has great models of affordable housing for seniors,” said Rep. Archie Verow of Brewer. “Our area has led efforts to help seniors remain more independent. I’m committed to continuing that work to help seniors age in their homes and communities.”

    Verow joined Eves for a tour of the new Chamberlain senior housing units in the town following the forum.

    Eves and Verow said the Chamberlain affordable housing unit could be a good model for the Speaker’s housing proposal because it was built with housing authority bond funds and also uses tax credits for seniors to help finance the cost of the facility.

    The KeepME Home plan is part of a culmination of nearly a year of work collaborating with aging experts, caregivers, municipal, and business leaders. The proposals will serve as key pieces of a larger package of legislation on aging in the 127th Legislature, which convenes in December.

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