WASHINGTON, D.C. – Every day I hear from Maine families struggling to pay medical expenses. Seniors, small businesses and working Maine families find they just can’t afford the rising costs of health care and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Recently a woman from North Berwick wrote to me to tell me that her husband is suffering from cancer, heart disease and emphysema.

He spends hundreds of dollars a month on prescriptions under Medicare, and every year around August he hits the “doughnut hole” and his costs jump to well over $1,000 a month.

The couple simply cannot afford this, and the husband regularly skips doses.

I also heard from a 60-year-old woman from York County who works as a part-time librarian and a toll collector on the Maine Turnpike.

She worries about her 25-year-old daughter — a student who can no longer be covered under her mother’s health insurance and who recently underwent emergency heart surgery.

And I’ve met countless small-business owners who feel they can’t keep providing health care coverage for their employees because of yearly, double-digit rate increases from insurance companies like Anthem. The health insurance reform that is now law directly addressees these problems.

It immediately brings relief to seniors caught in the Medicare doughnut hole with a $250 rebate check this year, then substantial discounts on prescription drugs starting next year, ultimately closing the doughnut hole completely.

The health care reform law allows children to stay on their parents’ policies through age 26, starting as early as this September.

And beginning this year, tens of thousands of Maine small businesses will be eligible for tax rebates up to 35 percent of the cost of the insurance they provide for themselves and their employees — the biggest health care tax cut in history.

A recent editorial in the Maine Sunday Telegram called the law that contains these important reforms “awful.”

Does helping seniors afford their prescriptions sound like a bad idea? Does making it easier for working families to keep their children covered sound all that bad? Is there something wrong with a tax credit for small businesses to help them afford the cost of covering their employees?

The Telegram’s editorial said health care reform “has created doubt, if not flat-out fear, in the business community.”

It’s true there is doubt and fear surrounding the bill — but it comes from misinformation and confusion about what the law really does.

For example, some have suggested that health care reform is somehow going to saddle thousands of small companies in Maine with mandates and taxes that will drive them out of business. That is simply untrue.

Here’s what the new legislation does do: Businesses under 25 employees with an average wage of up to $50,000 are eligible for an immediate tax credit up to 35 percent of the cost of their health insurance.

Meanwhile, only companies with more than 50 workers will fall under the employee responsibility portion of the law and will be required to either provide health insurance for their employees or pay a fee if they don’t.

Let’s look at what that means for Maine small businesses:

According to the Maine Department of Labor, there are about 46,000 companies in Maine — 37,000 have 25 or fewer employees and will be eligible for the tax credit.

Fewer than 1,800 businesses in Maine have more than 50 workers, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 99.6 percent of those companies already offer health insurance.

The bottom line for small businesses in Maine is that the vast majority of them will be eligible for tax credits to help them provide health insurance, while a small handful of larger businesses will be required to provide health coverage for their employees.

And if the Walmarts of the world have to start providing health insurance, is that really so awful?

The final argument the editors made against health care reform was that the new law needs to be changed quickly, before Americans become familiar with the benefits it provides.

Once that happens, the Telegram argues, it will be hard to repeal those provisions.

If the worst thing that can be said about health care reform is that the changes it will bring about will be popular with average, working Americans, what’s so “awful” about that?


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