AUGUSTA – The other day, I received a call from the friend of a constituent who is dying of cancer. I was told that he might have less than three months to live.

He had recently received an email from the American Cancer Society informing him that if the Legislature passed L.D. 1333, the health insurance reform bill, he would be kicked off his insurance plan.

Needless to say, this cancer patient was extremely upset. He is receiving some costly, but necessary, medical care right now. If he had to pay for all of it personally his family would be financially devastated.

I told the caller that I had received the same email and reassured him that the information from the ACS was completely wrong. The reform explicitly stipulates that no one would be “kicked off” any insurance plan in Maine.

This shocking email from the ACS left many of us at the State House bewildered. It said that the new law would “deny coverage to cancer survivors.”

It also declared that it would “force cancer survivors to pay higher rates for health insurance.” Furthermore, it stated that cancer patients living in rural areas would have to drive to Bangor, Portland or Boston for treatment.

None of this is true, and the disturbing thing is, the ACS knew it wasn’t true. Everyone in Maine will continue to be able to purchase health insurance and no one can be “kicked off” a policy for getting sick.

Guaranteed renewability is federal law under HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The right to renew a policy has been the law in Maine since 1993.

This bill does not repeal guaranteed renewability, nor does it repeal the “guaranteed issue” law. No one will be charged higher rates for having cancer or surviving cancer. No one will be forced to drive unreasonable distances unless by choice.

The great mystery is why the American Cancer Society decided to inject itself into this debate with a campaign of deliberate deception and misinformation.

Sadly, the ACS is not the only organization involved in this effort to kill health insurance reform through hyperbole, scare tactics and outright falsehoods.

The Portland Press Herald, in an opinion piece by Greg Kesich on May 4 (“Republican health care reforms would make things worse”), says that the approach of Maine Republicans “is to loosen the rules and let insurance companies deny coverage to people who are sick, reducing premiums for the rest of us.”

As previously explained, insurance carriers are clearly prohibited from denying coverage. Kesich could have learned that with even a modicum of research. Instead, he misled his readers.

In the Bangor Daily News’ May 4 edition, we read that “those with chronic illnesses and those who are older but not yet eligible for Medicare, especially in rural areas are likely to face higher deductibles.”

This is absolutely false, and Susan Young, the BDN’s editorial page editor, knows better. Indeed, during a 30-minute conference call recently, several of us explained to her the facts of the legislation. She is entitled to her opinion, but not her own facts.

The Maine Democrats have chimed in from their website and in floor speeches with assertions that “the bill will increase costs for the sickest Maine people.”

That is a complete fabrication. Moreover, the changes to Maine’s onerous and restrictive community rating laws will lower prices for younger people, not raise them for older people.

It is obvious that Maine desperately needs health insurance reform. We have some of the highest premiums in the country. Younger families in the individual market have deductible amounts seven times higher than the national average to get policies they can barely afford.

We have the most over-regulated health insurance market in the country, creating the perfect conditions for monopoly control.

Maine residents understand this and want it changed. They want lower prices and more choices.

The Republican plan would do exactly that, while putting Maine back on the road to normalcy. The initiative is essentially the same as systems used successfully in dozens of other states, all of which have much lower premiums.

One has to wonder: Why are these groups so determined to keep this dysfunctional status quo?

What interest do they have in protecting the Anthem monopoly?

Why do they insist on scaring people through lies and wild exaggerations?

What is their hidden agenda?

This is an important issue, and it is unfortunate to see the debate degenerate into political football. The people of Maine deserve better.

– Special to The Press Herald