At Maine Medical Center, we know that to take good care of you, we have to take good care of the people who work here.

That’s why we offer our employees a comprehensive benefits package that includes excellent health and dental insurance, life and disability coverage, retirement benefits and training and education opportunities. And of course, treating people right also means paying them appropriately, something we take very seriously.

As any employer knows, this imperative to compensate people fairly has to be held up against the realities of one’s business. No matter the sector – private, public or nonprofit – every enterprise must live within its means, often while holding a still higher mission. In our case, we are dedicated to the goal of making our community the healthiest in the nation.

Unfortunately, the careful balance that defines the shared interests of our employees and the organization they support could be dramatically disrupted this November with the passage of a misguided ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Portland to $15 an hour.

As the city’s largest employer with 6,992 employees, Maine Medical Center will be severely impacted by this proposal – not because we pay our employees unfairly, but rather because our compensation system is built around both pay and benefits and opportunities to advance.

We have long recognized that the minimum wage in Maine of $7.50 an hour is too low to attract and retain good people. That’s why in 2013, we announced that we were voluntarily setting the minimum wage in our organization at $10.10 an hour. And we vowed then to evaluate our minimum compensation guideline on an ongoing basis, balancing the interests of our employees, our patients and the community in the process.

I’m proud to say we’ve done a good job holding all those interests. For instance, as a health care provider, we are dedicated to making sure our people have access to affordable care. That’s why our sliding-scale, premium-sharing model subsidizes lower-wage workers to ensure they can access affordable health coverage.

And we work hard to foster a culture where people can find not just a job, but a career. We offer training opportunities and tuition reimbursement for those who want to gain new skills and move up the ladder in both pay and benefits.

These opportunities rest on a business model that is stunningly complex and constantly changing. Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly, pays only 90 percent of the cost of actually providing care to those patients. And Medicaid (known as MaineCare in Maine), which covers low-income and disabled people, pays just 83 percent of the cost of care.

Meanwhile, we are determined to fulfill our promise to care for all regardless of ability to pay. Last year, Maine Medical Center provided approximately $34 million in free care to patients unable to pay.

Layer onto that the efforts we are all making to rein in the rising cost of health care, and what emerges is an enterprise in a complex and delicate balance.

The proposal to raise Portland’s minimum wage is well-intended. Indeed, it is aimed at many of the people who come to us each year for charitable care. And given our efforts to provide that care, it’s hard to conclude we don’t share a concern for how the folks at the bottom of the income ladder are faring.

But opponents of this ballot initiative have it exactly right when they say it amounts to “too far, too fast.”

Among the many unintended consequences of this proposal would be the disruption of that careful balance we maintain at Maine Medical Center among treating our employees fairly, keeping our care affordable and providing the best possible care to all who come through our doors.

It is hard to say exactly how Maine Medical Center would absorb the tens of millions of dollars in extra costs that the passage of Question 1 on the Portland ballot would bring. We are determined to maintain good benefits for our employees. We are dedicated to providing world-class care in our community. And we have a mission to care for those who cannot pay.

This proposal goes so far so fast, however, that something will have to give, and that is not in the interests of our employees, our patients or the Portland community.

Maine Medical Center is on the side of paying people fairly and caring for the less fortunate. A “no” vote on local Question 1 will help to keep us there.


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