The president and CEO of Mid Coast-Parkview Health said Thursday that Maine’s health care community is preparing to face the challenges resulting from a proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Speaking at the Freeport Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, Lois Skillings touched on what the Trump administration’s proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act would mean for Midcoast residents, and how Mid Coast- Parkview Health is prepared to react.

“I have no idea what will happen in the next few weeks and years, but what I do know is that your health care system is well-poised to navigate whatever happens,” said Skillings. “We have a strong foundation, a very nimble team and medical staff that will figure out whatever comes our way.”

Skillings said that she agrees that there are parts of the Affordable Care Act that aren’t working. However, she said policy makers should work within the existing act to implement change instead of starting over.

“It’s an experiment,” Skillings said. “All of these policies are. You don’t know the unintended consequences until they happen. It would be best if calmer heads prevailed, came together and figured out a rational, thoughtful bipartisan solution to fix the parts that aren’t working.”

ACA divisions

There are more than 75,000 Mainers who have health insurance through the marketplace, thanks to the ACA, former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. However, the ACA faced backlash and attempts at repeal and replacement by Republicans in Congress since being implemented in 2010.

Last week, Maine’s senators split on a bud- get plan that passed along party lines to end the ACA without a replacement.

On Tuesday, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, cited a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, “stating that a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would cost 32 million Americans their health insurance and force premiums in the individual market to nearly double over the next decade.”

Sen. Susan Collin, R-Maine, has characterized the ACA as being in a “downward spiral,” noting on the Senate floor “double-digit increases in premiums, higher deductibles, larger co-pays and far fewer choices as more and more insurers give up and flee the market.”

Collins and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., this week offered a new plan that would allow states to opt-in or out of the ACA.

First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, last week opposed the House’s own budget resolution, citing “record numbers of Americans” signing up for insurance through ACA and others who are being treated for illness or addiction thanks to the ACA. Maine, she warned, could lose 13,000 as a result of the repeal.

Second District Congressman

Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, however, called the ACA a “rapidly failing law” that was driving up health care costs.

“Tens of thousands of fellow Mainers and millions of Americans are suffocating under the spiking Obamacare monthly premiums, co-pays, and deductibles while other health insurance options continue to shrink — and it’s getting worse,” said Poliquin. “In Maine, for 2017, the average monthly premium increase for an individual plan is projected to range from 14 to 24 percent. In addition, one insurance company that covers a large percentage of Maine Obamacare holders has reported losses in the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Skillings: Control costs through mergers

Skillings has been CEO at Mid Coast-Parkview Health for five years and oversaw the merger of Mid Coast Hospital and Parkview Medical Center in 2015. She said that the culture of Maine’s health care community is close-knit, and that more hospitals in the state are merging in order to try lower health care costs. That, in turn, will help the state prepare for big changes in health care.

“In Maine, there is a movement away from a market and business orientation to a community orientation,” said Skillings. “As a nonprofit organization I can tell you that in other parts of the country health care is big business. In Maine, health care is like the lobster industry. There are only so many people to deliver health care to, and the more we complete with one another, the more we drive up costs.”

Skillings said that in the past decade there has been a consolidation of health care services and systems, in hopes to be more regionally oriented toward community rather than stealing each others markets. She said that many parts of the country over-utilize the health care system, driving up costs.

“The cost per capita in McAllen, Texas, on their Medicare beneficiary, for instance, is twice what it is in Brunswick, Maine,” said Skillings. “That’s why health care is almost 19 percent of the GDP.”

Skillings said she has worked to ensure the community gets as much free care as possible, and will continue to do so no matter what the repeal of the Affordable Care Act brings to Midcoast Maine.

“Last year we gave out $18.6 million of free care in our community,” said Skillings. “When I became CEO five years ago, it was $7.6 million. That’s positive change.”

CLARIFICATION: Mid Coast Hospital would like to clarify that while President and CEO Lois Skillings said that last year the hospital gave out “$18.6 million of free health care,” she was referring to all uncompensated care, including free care and bad debt.

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