NORWAY — Maine AllCare has adopted an “everybody in, nobody out” mantra when it comes to health care coverage in the Pine Tree State and officials reported extensive growth in their organization over the past year.
Maine AllCare is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that was founded six years ago, though organizers report that traction really got going in 2017. Its goal is “achieving universal, high-quality and affordable health care for the people of Maine,” according to its website, http://maineallcare.org/.
It seemed appropriate that the meeting for the Norway Area Chapter was held on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28, as chapter coordinator and board member Marilyn McWilliams reported a donor was found that day to match the first $5,000 of donations for the nonprofit. She encouraged the dozen attendees to reach out friends and family for donations.
Chapter Leader Liesha Petrovich told the group, “Our first donation was $5. People want to give. It wasn’t a lot of money but people want to give.”
The Norway Area Chapter was formed in August after Petrovich met a coordinator at the Norway Arts Festival.
“As soon as she said, ‘We’re working towards universal health care,’ I am all in,” she recalled, laughing. “At ‘universal’ you had me.”
Making the case
McWilliams, a Portland resident, became involved after learning about the organization at her church three years ago. While she is a Mainer, she worked in Massachusetts as a group insurance broker and witnessed first hand the failings of the country’s health care system.
“I thought, ‘You know, this whole system is just ridiculous. It’s my job while I am there to help them get through it, but this system needs to go away,’” she said. “Of the 34 industrialized countries, we are the only one that doesn’t have universal health care.”
“I think this is a no brainer for anybody. I don’t necessarily think it’s political,” Petrovich said about universal health care, adding there are many people who have filed for bankruptcy because of medical bills.
McWilliams noted medical bills are the reason for more than 60 percent of those who file for bankruptcy. A husband and wife duo in the Rockland Chapter are currently collecting stories about people’s health care nightmares to compile on a DVD that can be shared with audiences around the state.
“It is shocking that we live in this country and we have this problem,” Petrovich added.
While Maine AllCare organizers would love to see universal health care happen at the federal level first, they acknowledge that is not a reality. At the same time, if it was passed by the Maine Legislature, McWilliams said the bill would be altered. So they’re working toward a referendum question in 2020, with the hope if it passes, universal health care would be up and running by 2022 or 2023.
“I think our current administration is giving us the opportunity to say, ‘Things need to change,’” she said. “People are ready for this.”
“I think now is the time. I think a lot of different things converged to push the idea of universal health care. … Let’s take advantage of that,” she said.
McWilliams, Petrovich and other volunteers worked at polling places on Election Day and all reported enthusiasm and excitement from the majority of people they spoke with, many of whom signed cards saying they supported universal health care. Petrovich said of course there were some who were not interested.
“We had so many more that just said, ‘Where do I sign?’” she said.
Retired physician Tom Sterne of Bridgton said while some people had doubts and questions, they were also convincible.
“I think generally they were people who left that table with their eyes a bit more open and their ears a bit more perked,” he said.
The numbers show the support for universal health care, they said. The nonprofit’s goal was to gather 3,000 signatures for support on Election Day. Across the state, more than 11,000 were collected. There were “wows” and a “woo hoo” from the local volunteers – who hail from Bridgton, Paris, West Paris and Porter – when they heard the news Tuesday night.
McWilliams said at the beginning of the year, there were only 4,000 supporters and now there are 26,000.
“It’s grown that much,” she said. “We only had three chapters at the beginning of 2017. Now [there’s] 10.”
One of toughest questions volunteers are asked is how will universal health care be funded.
“It’s publicly funded, which is what we want. It’s taxes,” McWilliams said. “We’re going to have those numbers because we’re having those mathematical studies done.”
Maine AllCare would not have any deductibles, co-pays or networks.
“You just go to the doctor,” she said. “Obviously the people who are going to be afraid – and they’re going to come after us – is the insurance companies because they’re not going to be needed and the drug companies because we have to negotiate costs right now.”
However, McWilliams posits, universal health care would be good for businesses.
“Businesses would spend less on health care than they are now if they are paying for health care,” she said, putting an emphasis on the word “if.”
For those businesses that don’t pay for health care, this system would put them on an even playing field, she said.
“If a business knew it didn’t have to offer employees medical insurance here, that’s a pretty big incentive to bring or start your business here,” McWilliams added.
The chapter plans to show the PBS documentary “Sick Around the World” in mid-January or February, which would be followed by a panel discussion, as a way to get more people involved with the movement.
“It didn’t tackle a narrow issue. It kept the scope quite broad,” said Sterne. “It is done by a lay reporter, T.R. Reid, who came at it as a normal consumer, patient person would, only a little more sophisticated.”
The meetings are held on the fourth Tuesday of the month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Maine Kyokushin Karate Center, 29 Main St., Suite 5, Norway. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 23.