Cynthia Szymaink and Congressmen Michaud and Allen, by Ramona du Houx right

April/May 2006

By Ramona du Houx

Cynthia Szymaink found out abruptly in 2000 that she had a brain tumor. Last fall Cynthia received a letter from the federal government informing her that she would be enrolled in Medicare Part D, thus ending her MaineCare benefits. For 25 years she was a vibrant working woman. The transition to dealing with a brain tumor and the treatments were challenging. Now, her cancer is in remission.

“But the real nightmare started with Medicare Part D,” said Szymaink. She wasn’t in the federal database, so according to her new insurance plan she didn’t exist. She tried to talk to the new insurance carrier she was signed up with, but they were unresponsive. For two months she forewent her medications, endangering her health.

“It wasn’t until I called Governor Baldacci’s office that I got real help. I received a call back from a member of his staff, and within just a few hours I was able to get my prescription filled.”

Szymaink’s ordeal highlights the need for comprehensive health care. With MaineCare she was taken care of but Medicare D let her temporally fall through the cracks.

The stress of wondering if her condition had worsened ended up giving her heart problems. Without Governor Baldacci’s steadfast determination to protect the citizens of Maine against the faults of Medicare D, who knows what would have happened to Szymaink.

The governor is continually focused on ensuring the people of Maine receive the health care that they need. In Maine people will continue to receive their benefits under Maine’s programs as long as there are problems with Medicare D.

A survey commissioned by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and AARP shows strong support for MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, and for the idea that society has an obligation to ensure that all people have health coverage.

The telephone survey of 300 people found that more than 90 percent of respondents said that universal health care benefits everyone and 94 percent said that the government should provide health care coverage for people who can’t afford it. Seventy-three percent of those who responded said that the health-care system in the United States is headed in the wrong direction.

“For the majority of Maine people, there is no disagreement. In fact most Maine adults strongly believe that government should be providing health care for people who cannot afford it,” said Lisa Pohlmann, associated director for MECEP and coauthor of the report.

The survey also showed that:

•   81 percent of Mainers strongly agree that it saves money when people with chronic diseases like diabetes have access to early diagnosis and treatment to improve health.

Preventive care is the key to Dirigo Health. DirigoChoice covers people with preexisting conditions and gives yearly checkups to uncover illnesses before they become serious.

•   80 percent of Mainers agree that the cost of caring for uninsured people is shifted onto other policyholders. When uninsured people are treated in emergency rooms, hospitals shift that cost to private insurance companies, who then pass along the cost as premium increases.

DirigoChoice and other Dirigo Health reforms helps to reduce the cost of charity care and bad debt, thus preventing the resulting cost shift to other insured Maine people.

Dirigo not only provides critical health care to thousands of Mainers who would otherwise not be able to afford coverage, it also has achieved $43.7 million of savings in Maine’s health-care system. The state’s health ranking improved from 10th to 8th in the nation in just one year.

Nationwide, Dirigo Health was recently recognized as one of the top 18 government innovations for 2006. The Ash Institute and Council for Excellence in Government named Dirigo Health as among the “best and brightest” government programs.

The percentage of working-age Americans with moderate to middle incomes who lacked health insurance for at least part of 2005 rose to 41 percent, a dramatic increase from the 28 percent without coverage in 2001, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York based private, health-care policy foundation.

Maine is one of only seven states in the nation that has seen a decrease in the number of uninsured.

“Maine is taking the lead in putting quality health care within reach of all Maine people,” said House Speaker John Richardson. “Maine is one of only a handful of states insuring more people now than four years ago, while in most states more and more people are losing their health insurance. We will continue moving Maine forward in lowering health-care costs for Maine people and businesses through Dirigo.”

“Health-care concerns are on the minds of people and businesses in Maine and across the country. We have taken a bold first step with Dirigo to address those concerns,” said Governor Baldacci.

Dirigo Health began with the governor’s vision to bring universal health care to Maine.

With Dirigo Health parents of children eligible for MaineCare can enroll in the insurance program. Over five thousand have. But MaineCare only goes so far. What about small business people trying to earn a decent living and provide for their employees and families? What about their employees?

“Health care is a matter of fairness. Quality health care must be available to everyone in Maine. Dirigo is providing Maine people and businesses with access to affordable, high quality health care,” said the governor.

DirigoChoice insures 2,000 businesses in Maine. All together Dirigo Health covers over 15,000 people.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the help I received from the governor’s office. I just didn’t have the stamina to keep fighting,” concluded Szymaink after her ordeal with Medicare D.

“People who work hard and play by the rules need to be rewarded not punished,” said the governor who has stated that he will continue to fight for universal health care in Maine. Dirigo Health is the first step.