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New survey data released today confirms that Mainers want more transparent hospital prices and would support policies that ban hospitals from charging facility fees (unexpected expenses tacked onto a patient’s hospital bill, often after a visit to a medical practice or clinic), according to the latest findings by Consumers for Affordable Health Care (CAHC). The survey also corroborates data from 2022 that outlined Mainers’ concerns about health care affordability and their negative experiences with medical debt. Overall, many say it is a challenge to afford the health care they need.

Key findings from the Perceptions of Health Care Affordability and Hospital Facility Fees in Maine survey include:

  • Half of all surveyed Mainers find it difficult to afford health care; many responded it is very difficult to afford health care.

  • Four out of ten Mainers have taken on medical debt within the past five years; three out of four who took on medical debt in the past five years still have that debt.

  • Two out of three Mainers say they would have difficulty paying a $500 medical expense.

  • Hospital-owned facilities are, by far, the most common source of medical debt, with six out of ten saying the largest share of their debt came from a hospital facility.

  • Almost eight out of ten Mainers would support a law that banned hospitals from charging facility fees outside of a hospital – a clear majority strongly support that type of ban.

  • Nine out of ten would support laws that require medical providers to disclose their facility fees to patients before they receive treatment.

The full survey can be viewed here.

“While actions have been taken to improve access to health coverage in Maine, too many Mainers continue to struggle with the cost of health care and with medical debt. We all deserve to take care of our health without financial stress or worry,” said Ann Woloson, Executive Director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “Mainers have made it clear: establishing transparent hospital prices is a responsible path forward to address high hospital costs. The survey results, coupled with the Task Force to Evaluate the Impact of Facility Fees on Patients  recommendations, show there is a need – and resounding support for – both transparent prices and additional steps to address rising health care costs and medical debt in Maine.”

The survey data comes on the heels of a report released earlier this month from the legislative task force. The top recommendations include support for improved consumer protections, including facility fees transparency, and limits on facility fees in hospital bills for telehealth services, outpatient evaluations, and office visits.

This polling research was supported by United States of Care, a nonpartisan health care advocacy group, and West Health.

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Maine’s healthcare costs are through the roof, and it’s leaving too many working families in dire financial straits.

According to a survey conducted earlier this year, more than four out of ten Mainers have medical debt in their household, and more than two-thirds say they are just one major medical bill away from financial ruin. 

When patients seek care from hospitals or healthcare facilities, unfair billing practices ensure that these families are left in the lurch. 

There are healthcare facilities that are quick to send bills to collections, sometimes with little room to discuss payment, let alone pay the bill back in full. Doing this damages a patient’s credit score, making it hard for them to not only seek financial support but to qualify for important necessities, like buying a car or qualifying for a mortgage.

There are also income-eligible Mainers who qualify for free care, but hospitals do not inform them when they do. Hospitals and healthcare facilities do not always offer fair terms for payment plans, either; often they are unrealistic and unreasonably expensive. 

All of this puts people in impossible positions, where they’re forced to make choices between paying their rent or their medical bills. Some even ration their medication or go without care entirely, to avoid crippling medical debt. This is dangerous. 

  • Expand eligibility for free healthcare services for lower-income Mainers, and require hospitals to inform patients when they qualify;

  • Require hospitals to offer payment plans with terms of at least 2 years to pay off the bill, with monthly payments never exceeding three percent of a patient's income;

  • Require hospitals to provide a 240-day grace period to pay back the debt, and prevent them from selling debt to collections agencies, suing patients to recover debt or withholding services until debts are cleared during that period.

This bill is an important step in ensuring that hospitals and healthcare facilities are obligated to provide fair billing practices for all patients, and free care to those who need it most. Mainers shouldn’t be buried under unbearable medical debt, all for seeking the care they need to be healthy. Sign this petition to tell your representatives to pass LD 1955!

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In 2023, Maine made strides to help support our working families. With the passage of a statewide Paid Family & Medical Leave program, increased funding for childcare, and bills that expand absentee voting, the Legislature worked hard to prioritize the needs of families across the state.

As we look ahead in this new year, we know that there’s more work to be done to help our working families thrive. Mainers for Working Families will be working to push ahead these key measures in the coming year:

Ensuring Affordable and Accessible Healthcare

Healthcare costs in Maine are out of control. More than one in three skipped or delayed going to the doctor when they were sick and one in four cut pills in half, skipped doses of a medication, or delayed or did not fill a prescription, all due to cost.

There are several bills that the Legislature can pass that would help ease these burdens. These include:

  • LD 1829: An Act to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs by Requiring Reference-based Pricing; this bill ensures that prescription drug companies don’t price gouge the cost of medication. Under this bill, they can only raise the price to the maximum rate allowed under Medicare, which is determined by the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

  • LD 1955: An Act to Require Hospitals and Hospital-affiliated Providers to Provide Financial Assistance for Medical Care; this bill requires hospitals to expand free care to more lower-income Mainers, simplify the application process to receive that care, and require that hospitals immediately inform patients that they qualify. Hospitals will also be required to offer fair terms for payment plans, with terms of at least two years, and ban them from unfair debt collection practices, like sending bills to collections before the 8-month mark or pricing monthly payments well above what patients can afford.

There is also a task force convened to provide recommendations on how to prevent Mainers from being saddled with the costs of facility fees, and reports coming out of the Maine Office of Affordable Health Care, which will also provide guidance and recommendations on how to make healthcare more affordable for Mainers. 

Curbing High Heating Costs

Maine’s families are under pressure constantly from the ever-increasing cost of heating their homes. Meanwhile, utility companies are hiking up rates and making high profits, while their customers continue to rate their service poorly.

Right now, the Legislature is considering LD 916: An Act to Establish a Windfall Profits Tax on Electric Utilities to Assist with Residential Heating Costs. This bill would create a tax on these companies, who have seen above-average profits, and use that revenue to provide direct financial assistance to Mainers to help heat their homes.

Making Housing More Affordable 

Maine is in the midst of a housing crisis. Not only is there not enough housing, with Maine being nearly 38,000 units short of the projected need, but the available housing is too expensive for lower and middle-income Mainers. It’s hurting Maine families, and preventing our state’s economy from growing stronger. 

The Legislature has several bills forward that could help fix this problem, including:

  • LD 1490: An Act to Reduce Rental Housing Costs by Eliminating Additional Fees at or Prior to the Commencement of Tenancy; this bill would prevent a landlord, their agent or a real estate broker from changing any additional fees beyond rent for the first full month of occupancy, a security deposit and the cost of a lock and key.

  • LD 1538: An Act to Provide Tax Benefits to Persons Constructing Accessory Dwelling Units; this bill would provide a partial property tax reimbursement to homeowners who build an additional dwelling unit on their property.

  •  LD 1710: An Act to Establish the Maine Rental Assistance and Guarantee Program and Amend the Laws Regarding Tenants and the Municipal General Assistance Program; this bill requires the Maine State Housing Authority to create a new program that provides Mainers with rental assistance, prohibits acts of discrimination against tenants who receive rental assistance, requires owners of more than 10 residential

rental units to ensure that at least 10% of the rental units are set aside for affordable housing and more.

Establishing Corporate Tax Transparency

Maine is made up of primarily small businesses, but we have many corporations that work in state. Often, corporations can find loopholes in the tax code, and avoid paying their fair share. This hurts everyone – our small businesses, our working families, and our economy. 

The Legislature is currently considering LD 1337: An Act to Require a Corporation That Files a Tax Return in the State to File a Tax Disclosure Statement. This bill will require corporations who do business in Maine to file public tax disclosure statements, readily available to all who want to view them. This transparency will ensure that we know exactly what taxes they’re filing, and if they’re avoiding paying their fair share. It will ensure that corporations can’t keep dodging their taxes. It puts that money back into our economy and will level the playing field for our small businesses and working families

In the year ahead, we need our leaders in Augusta to step up to the plate for Maine’s working families. From addressing the health care and housing crises, helping people heat their homes, and making sure corporations pay their fair share, there’s much to do to ensure that everyone has what they need to thrive.

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