Category Archives: Health and Welfare

How Maine people moved Sen. Collins and stopped Trumpcare | Bangor Daily News

By Amy Fried

The stories we tell about politics have consequences, shaping how people and groups act in the future. Tales of courageous politicians, however uplifting, can overlook how citizens influenced them.

After the dramatic failure of the health care vote in the Senate, attention flowed to the three Republicans who broke with their party — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — each a protagonist in this drama.

What actually happened shows how much citizens mattered in the health care fight and provides lessons for democracy in the Trump era.

On health care, Collins did not start where she ended and she shifted after considerable grassroots action.

Moreover, confronting Collins meant challenging the most popular elected official in the state, who was used to highly laudatory press.

Using guidelines from the Indivisibles Guide, a document developed by former congressional staff that sparked people to form local chapters, Maine people repeatedly asked Collins to hold a town hall. She never did.

Constituents found her anyway, and spoke to her and her staff in Maine and Washington, D.C. All sides benefited from a Maine political culture that prizes civility. While confrontations could be intense, they were also courteous.

And so, coming out of a Bangor radio station one snowy February day, Collins faced something virtually unprecedented for her — public pressure. After one womanpolitely told her, “I would like to request a public access town hall, please,” the senator walked to her car.

Read the rest of this commentary.

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Listening to real people trumps threats in ACA repeal battle | Bangor Daily News

There are many reasons that Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and to replace it with inferior plans that would have also gutted Medicaid, failed in Congress. One of the biggest reasons is that Republican leadership, especially in the Senate, tried to pass proposals that were hastily written, had no clear policy goals, and had no objective expert analysis. As a result, those proposals would have harmed millions of American people.

So, it is disheartening, but not surprising, that President Donald Trump is now trying to undermine the ACA through backdoor executive actions, which could have dire consequences for millions of Americans, rather than a bipartisan effort to fix what is really wrong with the health insurance law.

After the last attempt to repeal portions of the ACA, known as “skinny repeal,” failed last Friday morning, done in by “no” votes from Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain, Trump said he’d let the insurance program fail, to make lawmakers more eager to reach a deal. “As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch,” he posted on Twitter.

Trump has suggested that his administration will end payments to insurance companies that encourage them to take on lower-income subscribers by lowering their out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles. Without the cost-sharing reduction payments, many insurers would likely increase premium costs and some would drop out of the ACA market.

The administration may also stop enforcing the individual mandate, a much maligned portion of the law, but one that is necessary to bring younger, healthier people into the market.

Congress must quickly step in to stop such disastrous moves. The Senate Health Care Committee announced Tuesday that it will begin holding hearings early next month on how best to stabilize the individual health insurance market. Congress must also appropriate the funds to continue the cost-sharing reduction payments, which are necessary to keep health insurance affordable for many lower-income Americans.

Read the rest of this editorial.

George Mitchell blasts LePage for attacks on Susan Collins, Angus King | Bangor Daily News

Former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell defended Maine’s current U.S. senators Thursday for their votes regarding the Affordable Care Act in response to Gov. Paul LePage’s prolonged criticism of their positions.

LePage has used his public speaking engagements in recent days to lambaste Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King for their votes against repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Since Saturday, LePage has rallied supporters at a Somerset County GOP eventagainst Collins, ripped her and King in two radio interviews, penned a scathing commentary against them in the Wall Street Journal and targeted them in this week’s radio address.

“U.S. senators like Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are enjoying Cadillac health insurance plans while they are mandating Americans ride a moped,” said LePage in the latter. “They are so busy seeking the national limelight, they are ignoring the people in their own state.”

Members of Congress and their staffs can purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, with the bulk of their premiums covered by the government. King’s and Collins’ staffs did not immediately respond to Bangor Daily News questions about their specific health care plans and whether they had contacted LePage or his staff to ask him to correct his assertion that they have “Cadillac plans.”

In a statement to reporters on Thursday, Mitchell took umbrage with LePage’s assertions.

“I respectfully but strongly disagree,” he said. “Sens. Collins and King did in fact represent the best interests of the vast majority of Maine people.”

Read the rest of this story.

Lipstick on a Health Bill | The New York Times

Susan Collins, the Maine Republican, got straight to the point in describing the new Senate health care bill: “Still deep cuts to Medicaid in Senate bill. Will vote no,” she tweeted yesterday. “Ready to work w/ GOP & Dem colleagues to fix flaws in ACA.”

Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican and another potential swing vote, was less straightforward. “I opposed the last draft of the Senate health proposal because I had concerns about the measure’s Medicaid policies,” Portman said in a statement. Later, he followed up saying that he was undecided about whether he would support this bill.

Here’s the problem for Portman: Collins is right. The Medicaid policies are virtually identical between the revised Senate bill and the previous bill. If Portman opposed the last bill because of how it would harm Medicaid recipients — and he did — he would logically need to oppose this one, too.

Read the rest of this commentary.

Maine doctors prescribing far fewer opioids, analysis at county level shows | Portland Press Herald

Maine doctors are prescribing far fewer opioids to patients compared with several years ago, a trend that experts say bodes well for future alleviation of the opioid crisis.

However, it’s unknown how long it will take for the decline to have an impact on addiction rates and deaths, and the prescribing rates vary widely, with two of Maine’s 16 counties actually seeing an increase.

The prescribing trends are captured in two reports – a county-level analysis published last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a national report with state-level data prepared in the spring by a Connecticut health consulting company, QuintilesIMS.

The Quintiles report, done for the American Medical Association, showed that the number of opioid prescriptions in Maine fell 21.5 percent from 2013 to 2016. That’s the fourth-highest drop in the nation, which averaged a 14.6 percent reduction in the same period. Maine’s 0.7 per-capita opioid prescription rate now matches the national average.

Read the rest of the story.

Both Maine Senators Say They Will Vote ‘No’ on Latest GOP Health Care Bill | Maine Public

The latest attempt by the US Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has failed to garner support from Maine’s senators. Though the bill does eliminate some unpopular provisions from earlier versions, the changes aren’t enough to gain traction with Senators Collins and King, and Maine health providers.

Previous proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have included tax breaks for high income earners. Those tax breaks have been scaled back in the latest version of the Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. There’s also more funding included to fight the opioid epidemic: $45 billion over the next decade. But one big problem remains: cuts to Medicaid. Senator Susan Collins tweeted that’s the reason she can’t support this latest proposal. Neither can Vanessa Santarelli, CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association.

“The deep cuts to the Medicaid program could be really damaging, particularly to a state like Maine and to our community health centers,” Santarelli says.

Read and listen to the story.

Senate GOP leaders abruptly delay vote on healthcare bill until after July 4th recess | Los Angles Times

Facing resistance from their own party, Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday they would postpone a vote on their healthcare bill until after the July 4th recess.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to provide more time to make changes to the bill to try to convince reluctant GOP senators to vote for the measure.

“We’re going to press on,” McConnell said, adding he remains optimistic. “We’re continuing to talk.”

Since the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would leave 22 million more Americans without insurance after 10 years, several Republicans senators had said they would not even support allowing the bill to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, President Trump invited all GOP senators to the White House for a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who has expressed serious doubts about the bill, questioned whether revisions would make a difference.

“I have so many fundamental problems with the bill, that have been confirmed by the CBO report, that it’s difficult to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the bill,” Collins said on CNN.

Read the rest of the story.

Sen. Susan Collins Will Vote No On Health Care Bill: Her announcement is a significant blow to Senate Republicans | Huffington Post

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Monday she would not vote for the Senate’s controversial health care bill, despite urging from fellow Republicans to pass the legislation as soon as this week.

In a series of tweets, Collins cited a Congressional Budget Office report released Monday that found the new bill would cause 22 million people to lose their insurance over the next 10 years. The Senate’s bill would also dramatically undercut federal funding for Medicaid and financial assistance for low- and middle-income people, all facts Collins said wouldn’t “fix ACA problems for rural Maine,” referring to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

The announcement is a significant blow to Senate Republicans, particularly Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has scrambled to garner support for the bill, which could come up for a vote as early as Thursday.

Read more of this story and view images of Sen. Collins’ tweets and a table that shows the differences between the Affordable Care Act and the two GOP versions to repeal and replace ACA.

 

Maine health care providers urge Sen. Susan Collins to oppose health care bill | Bangor Daily News and Maine Public

Maine health providers from across the state spoke in Lewiston on Friday to denounce the Senate health care bill and urge Sen. Susan Collins to oppose it.

Portland family physician Dr. Sam Zager said the Senate bill will cut off care for patients.

“I think this gets to the core of what it means to have a civilized society,” he said. “Are we going to turn people out? Are we going to toss them off the ship and let them drown at sea? Or are we going to acknowledge that we have a responsibility for the welfare of those around us?”

The Senate bill would partially cut funding for the Medicaid program, which pays for the majority of long-term care costs for seniors and people with disabilities.

Read the rest of the story.

Our View: Sen. Collins should fight Senate health care bill | Portland (Maine) Press Herald

Sen. Susan Collins says she will spend the next few days carefully reviewing the new Affordable Care Act repeal proposal, taking a hard look at an upcoming analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and considering what she has learned from her conversations with constituents in Maine.

We admire her diligence, but we think Collins already has enough information to know what she should do. This bill would be bad for Maine and bad for America, and the senator should speak out against it as forcefully as possible.

Collins’ voice has never been more important. Because of the way parliamentary rules are being applied, the 52 Republicans in the Senate are the only ones who get to make a meaningful impact in this debate. If only three Republican senators refuse to sign on, the bill will have to be renegotiated. Just hours after details of the bill were revealed, four hard-right senators said they might scuttle it if the cuts to health care aren’t even deeper than proposed.

Read more of the editorial in the Portland Press Herald.

Whether Decaf Or Regular, Coffee Seems To Be Good For Your Liver | HuffPost Healthy Living

See, coffee is health food!

Drinking decaffeinated coffee is just as helpful as drinking regular coffee is for maintaining a healthy liver, a new study finds.

Regardless of whether they drank decaf or regular, people in the study who drank large quantities of coffee on a daily basis had lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes, the researchers found. This suggests that a chemical in coffee other than caffeine may help the liver, the researchers said.

Other studies have found that drinking coffee is associated with lower risks of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“Prior research found that drinking coffee may have a possible protective effect on the liver,” lead researcher Dr. Qian Xiao, of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a statement. “However, the evidence is not clear if that benefit may extend to decaffeinated coffee.”

Read more of this story by Laura Geggel on HuffPost Healthy Living.

Making resolutions as important as keeping them

We all make ’em, but we hardly ever keep ’em.

Resolutions are the genuine expression of our deep desire to mend our ways in the coming year. They are the codification of frustrating, seemingly unattainable goals of losing weight, eating better, drinking less, taking our loved ones and friends less for granted, being better at whatever. And much, much more.

I’ve written before about setting – and failing at – resolutions. There was “Resolving to avoid resolutions this year … or not,” “Vowing to be a better blogger … I promise,” and “Resolving that these will be the best resolutions – ever.” I’m not sure if that makes me uniquely knowledgeable about resolutions – or really, really not.

It is part of human nature, I suppose, to set challenging goals. That gives us something to reach for and added satisfaction when we accomplish meaningful goals. We don’t only hit the mark, we exceed it.

And even if we know that most of our resolutions never will be accomplished, the mere exercise alone is worthy of our time. It is essential that we each take a few moments from time to time to reflect on the past and present, and look to what the future could hold. It is essential as humans to find a hope in what we do and how we do it. Setting resolutions is a way to remind us of the very hope upon which we desperately depend.

We do tend to sent lofty goals, when small steps are just as effective. We can always build upon the small successes that come with small steps toward improvement. Grand changes are not always necessary. Ending world hunger and bring about world peace do not have to ride solely on the shoulders of a new year’s resolution. It is best to pick a few reasonable changes. Instead of ending world hunger, perhaps volunteer at the local food bank or offer to deliver meals to seniors and other shut-ins. Or arrange a canned food drive at your school, office or church. Instead of bringing about world peace, vow to be more tolerant and understanding in the coming year. Or even sign up for classes to become a mediator.

None of us alone can make a significant difference in the world. But each of us pulling together, doing what we can, can make great strides toward a better world. Each little effort causes a ripple effect that moves and encourages others to do little things, which moves and encourages others. A little effort will beget a little effort that will beget more little efforts that in time will merge and culminate into a significant pulse, a surge, a movement toward change. We saw that in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and we saw it in the Occupy Movement.

Frustration with a situation often moves us to make change. The Occupy Movement is about frustration – frustration in the stalled economy and the fat cats that let it happen and have profited from a diminished middle class; frustration in the political system that turned its back on everyone; frustration in unemployment, home foreclosures, the lack of affordable health care, the lack of tolerance … the lack of hope.

I’ve never been a “kick the bums out” sort when it comes to political change. Our electoral system is flawed in many ways, but it is the system we have. When we want change we must use that system to make those changes. Our voice and our vote are our weapons. But I am growingly frustrated with the way politicians – Republicans, Democrats, Independents, conservatives, liberals, all of them – disregard what always should be the core goal – the greatest good for the greatest number. It should not be the greatest good for the richest 1 percent.

Where to start when you “kick the bums out” is a particularly sticky point. After all, do you start with Wall Street bankers and lawyers? Or with Washington politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats? Or with the leaders and shareholders of mega-corporations that would rather lay off workers and relocate their jobs overseas than to take slight cut in profits?

Perhaps we should kick them all out and start with a fresh slate, one that puts in power the people with the most to lose and gain in the future. Perhaps we should turn over the running of Wall Street, Main Street and Washington to the children who will be living in this world for the next 70 or 80 years or more. Perhaps they can make more sense of things than those currently running the show.

I don’t suppose that will happen. I can only live in my world and do what I can to make it better, hoping all the time that what I do and how I do it will cause someone else to believe that they too can do just a little bit to contribute to the whole, overall, cumulative change for better.

My resolutions are not spectacularly original, but they are mine.

Resolution No. 1: Be a better person. Not sure this requires much explanation. We tend to know when the things we say or do or don’t do hurt people in our lives. There really is no need for that sort of behavior.

Resolution No. 2: Be a better person to myself. Not sure this requires much explanation, either. This includes exercising more, eating better, drinking less, getting more rest. Pretty normal stuff.

Resolution No. 3: Travel much, much more. Much, much more. I won’t be able to afford grand trips, but I can put together an impressive collection of day-trips. I’ve lived in Northern California since 1983 and for some unfathomable reason I have never been to Yosemite National Park. Amazingly, there has been no state legislative action to kick my butt out of the state for this incredible oversight.

Resolution No. 4: Recover a least a portion of that which was lost during two and a half years of unemployment. This is “the big one,” because I doubt I will be able to regain that much at all. I pretty much have spent the money set aside in 22 years of journalism for retirement. Cashing in an IRA was a painfully necessary thing to do a year or so ago after the unemployment benefits dried up. I’m employed, but making half of what I was making when I was previously working. I turn 50 in six months and I have no idea if I will ever be able to retire.

I’m not sure I’ll remember these resolutions much past the end of, say, this week. But at least I gave the future – and hope in general – some thought.

All rights reserved by Keith Michaud ©

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Navigating the poverty line: Pressure on Portland’s social safety net grows as dramatically does ranks of unemployed | Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND – It was about 6 a.m., dark and cold, when Brian Gailliot got on the welfare line Friday.

Portland’s General Assistance office wouldn’t open until 8, but the line was already 30 deep when he arrived. A man and woman at the front had been sitting there in folding chairs since 10 p.m. Thursday.

“There’s just not enough work,” said Gailliot, who currently works part time for a temp agency, eats at the local soup kitchen and sleeps in a friend’s apartment. “I haven’t had my own place for a year and a half.”

One in eight Mainers lived below the poverty line in 2010, according to recently released U.S. census data. Maine’s poverty rate hit 12.5 percent in 2010, up from 11.4 percent the year before.

On the streets, the prolonged economic slump is translating into dramatic increases in the number of unemployed people who have exhausted savings and unemployment benefits and are seeking help for the first time at Portland’s food pantries, soup kitchens and welfare offices.

Click to read more of the story by John Richardson in the Portland Press Herald.

Will write for food! … Or walk your dog!

Hey there! Hey there! I’m still trying to line up a freelance gig or two for the coming weeks. Please let me know if you are in need or know someone in need of a writer-editor-blogger-dog walker-house-sitter-dishwasher. Cheers!

Environmental coalition praises, criticizes lawmakers | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Environmental coalition praises, criticizes lawmakers | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Maine’s Acadia National Park celebrates park week | Bangor Daily News

Maine’s Acadia National Park celebrates park week | Bangor Daily News

Burt’s Bees founder wants to donate national park | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Burt’s Bees founder wants to donate national park | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Maine governor is looking more boorish all the time

Maine Gov. Paul LePage during another of his finest hours.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage during another of his finest hours.

I had planned to reserve judgment on Maine Gov. Paul LePage until he had been in office for a while longer. After all, the man just took office a mere few months ago.

But frankly – and with no offense intended to my Maine family and friends who may have voted for him – LePage is looking more boorish and less like a statesman all the time.

It is one thing to stand up and be strong, but it is completely another to bumble your way through things causing chaos and destruction, and then boldly justify your awkward ways. He is more a bull in a china shop than he is a sage owl masterfully handling the duties and responsibilities of his new job. His coarse ways may have served him well in business – I cannot see how – but it does not serve the state well for him to continue his bad-mannered, loutish ways.

From all accounts – at least, accounts that do not come from the governor’s office or are not manipulated by the governor’s puppet masters – LePage is a boob.

He has offended almost anyone with any sensibility, from the growing African-American community in Maine to women to environmentalists to workers and unions to the working poor to art lovers to, well, anybody.

I once wrote in a column describing how clumsy the mayor of Vacaville, Calif., handled a situation. An entire neighborhood in Vacaville was flooded – at the time it seemed that city maintenance practices might have played a part in the severity of the flooding – and the mayor acted callously toward some very concerned neighbors. I wrote that the mayor came across as gangly as a moose on a frozen lake.

I was wrong. That mayor was as graceful as an eagle soaring in the sky.

LePage is the gangly moose on a frozen ice.

Here are a few links to stories about LePage’s mucked-up walk through Maine politics.

Hundreds protest mural removal; artwork could land in Portland | Bangor Daily News

A picture of labor unrest: Demonstrators at rallies take issue with Gov. LePage’s order to remove mural from a state agency’s headquarters | Portland Press Herald

Governor’s decision attracts attention, repels tourist | Portland Press Herald

Mural protesters say they’ll fight governor’s removal order | Lewiston Sun Journal

Panel backs state ban on products with BPA: LePage administration now says it won’t fight ban, even though the governor still opposes it | Portland Press Herald

LePage retorts to heckler: ‘I would love to tax the rich if we had any in Maine’ | Bangor Daily News

LePage again in national spotlight over mural order; Stewart, Maddow mock move | Bangor Daily News

Of course, some Mainers – especially those who voted for LePage and those who continue to support his bumbling ways – will decry my characterization of the man who was elected by them to lead the state. True, it seems as if I am an outsider – someone “from away” – and I should not have the right to criticize the work that has been done.

Well, I will criticize it for several reasons:

My sister and her family live in Maine. It is important to her, her husband, my mother and me that my nephew Max and niece Sophie live in a state where they can continue to thrive.

My mother lives in Maine. I will never get her to move away to a warm climate in the winter. She rarely stays with my sister in southern Maine longer than a week, let alone for a long, cold Maine winter. It is where she was born and it is where she wants to be. She should be allowed to enjoy here life there.

I am a Maine native and I fully intend to return to Maine, although LePage’s antics have made me think twice about it. Maine is where I want to be; my economic circumstances keep me from it, but I will there eventually, LePage or not.

Mainers deserve better than what LePage has done so far.

I have a vested interest in the success of Maine and it does not seem as if LePage can lead a row of ducklings let alone a state.

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Still time to raise money for Tour de Cure

Earlier this year I posted a request for donations go to Tour de Cure with the money raised used to combat diabetes (“Skip that grande latte, click below to back a cure for diabetes,” Letters From Away, Jan. 15, 2011). My sister has diabetes and the medical challenges are incredible.

Here’s an update from Diane Barney, my former boss who is raising money for the May 1 Tour de Cure in Napa. She wrote:

Thanks to all my generous friends, I have made my fund-raising goal for Tour de Cure (although always happy to raise more.) But if you were going to pledge me and you haven’t yet, please pledge for my husband, Chuck, who has signed up to ride 25 miles as well! Let’s get him off the zero mark. He needs to raise a minimum of $225 by May 1. You can use a credit card on the link above for your pledge! Thanks!!!

Here’s the link to Chuck Tour de Cure web page where donations can be made.

CMP chastised over smart meters | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

CMP chastised over smart meters | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.