BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Town Council unanimously backed a resolution advocating for universal health care for all Maine residents during a meeting Monday.

The resolution urges state and federal governments to establish comprehensive coverage for all citizens. Councilor Dan Ankeles pitched the health care appeal after discussions with Dr. Bill Clark, leader of the nonprofit Maine AllCare.

Free health care “…supports a foundational aspect of American democracy, that is to say, everyone working together and caring for one another,” Clark said during Monday’s meeting.

Whether implemented at the federal or state level, free health care would be a fairer and more comprehensive program than the current system, Clark argued. The implementation of free health care would mark a shift from a primarily employer-based health care program that has suffered lately as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Clark said health care providers would see benefits of their own under such a program.
According Clark, the program would allow doctors to work in a “hassle-free” environment that promotes “care for people instead of caring for paperwork.”
“COVID-19 has exposed the employer-based health care system that we have in this country as woefully inadequate for dealing with the health care needs of the American people,” Ankeles said.
With more than 50 million Americans filing for unemployment since March, many lawmakers have begun to explore alternative health care legislation, including a federally or state-regulated system.
“We got a vote from Democrats, Republicans and independents on the council …,” Ankeles said. “They all understand that this is a goal that Brunswick voters really care about.”
Critics have suggested that a universal health care program works in theory but not in practice, pointing to potential organizational and economic difficulties in the implementation of such a program.
Some are concerned that allowing the state or federal government to hold a monopoly over the health care industry will lead to price inflation and inefficiency. Under a universal health care system, the provider would have to impose taxes in order to fund the program.
Alternatively, a market-based health care system with a “right to shop” has been backed by organizations like the nonprofit Maine Policy Institute, which has stated that “​the health care sector needs robust competition in order to lower prices and improve quality of service.”
Maine legislators were unsuccessful in implementing universal coverage in 2003 due to insufficient funds and a lack of public support for increased taxes. Vermont also emerged as a free health care trailblazer in 2014 before abandoning the program due to fears of economic damage.

 “The financial implications for this are huge,” Ankeles said, arguing that free health care would lead to “a much healthier population, a population that’s well taken care of and in a much better position to thrive economically.”

Earlier this year, officials in Bangor approved a similar resolution calling for the creation of an “equitable” health care plan for all Mainers from “birth to death.” Portland has passed similar resolutions in the past, including in 2009 when they sent a resolution to the state legislature calling for movement toward universal health care.

While individual municipalities can’t enact sweeping changes to the health care industry, Clark and Ankeles said they see it as their civic responsibility to advocate for these reforms.

“Every municipality that calls for this is another voice that moves the debate toward this outcome,” Ankeles said. “While it might not be a binding thing, it’s an important way to signal a desired policy outcome.”

“This (resolution) isn’t binding, but it’s powerful because people spoke emphatically and formally about something,” said Jean Sawyer, a Brunswick resident who spoke at the council meeting. “I think that for Brunswick to put itself out in this process would be a really good thing.”

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