Opinion: Maine Med-Anthem rift underscores why we need universal health care now / by Katrina Ray-Saulis

Photo: Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. | via Maine Medical Center

Rachel King, a community college advisor from Boothbay, woke up Thursday Morning to an upsetting email from MaineHealth. The email, which went out to previous Maine Medical patients who have Anthem insurance, read: “I’m writing to let you know that MaineHealth has made the difficult decision to serve notice to the health insurer Anthem that, beginning in 2023, Maine Medical Center will no longer be an in-network provider of non-emergency care for those with Anthem commercial coverage.” The email went on to describe what healthcare Anthem consumers would and would not be able to access come 2023 and was signed by MaineHealth CEO Andrew Mueller, MD. 

King was devastated. “I have a brain aneurysm that has to be checked every two years. If they are out of my network, the cost to me is financially a hardship.” King, like many Mainers, runs the risk of being deeply impacted if this split between Anthem and Maine Medical Center goes through. But the frustrating part is, as King put it, is “the fact that we are getting these letters means we are pawns in the game.” 

Corporate negotiations moving into the public sphere aren’t an uncommon act. In fact, it is an effective negotiating tactic and likely will result in Anthem and MaineHealth brokering some sort of deal. In the end it is highly unlikely that one of Maine’s largest healthcare providers will actually make a complete disconnect from one of the nation’s largest insurance providers.

I am beyond tired of the volatility of the American healthcare system. I think most of us are. We are tired of worrying about losing healthcare, negotiating near-impossible standards within the healthcare system, and paying exorbitant rates for something that so many other countries have proven can be handled in a much better way. 

One need only search “American healthcare” on any social media site to find countless discussions about the hidden costs, exorbitant rates, and evidence of the unreliability of the American healthcare system. American healthcare is literally a joke among people in other countries. 

It’s not that efforts aren’t being made to make healthcare more accessible. Democrats have been trying for years. The Affordable Insulin Now Act, which was cosponsored by Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King this year and just passed the House this week, has the potential to keep insulin costs at a reasonable level nationwide. Actions like expanding Medicare, and passing the Affordable Care Act, similarly opened up healthcare to more and more people. Attempts are being made.

But how long are we going to keep trying to make these tiny fixes to our healthcare system when the real solution is one broad, sweeping change to a universal health care system? Medicare for all, universal healthcare, consumer-run healthcare. Whichever you choose, it is the only real way to stop American people from feeling like pawns at the negotiating table between corporations. A universal healthcare system is the only way to fully ditch Americans’ fear and anxiety over who can and can’t access affordable healthcare coverage. 

Katrina Ray-Saulis is a Maine writer and avid knitter. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from the New Hampshire Institute of Art. She and her wife live in a 200-year old house that was once owned by the local undertaker.

Beacon, April 8, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/