This year has been a challenging one for all of us, to say the least. We’re nearly a year into this pandemic, and everyone has struggled in one way or another. Some folks have been laid off from work, many haven’t seen friends or family members in months, and I think all of us have had our mental strength tested at some point.

Joseph Rafferty

With all of the hardships we have endured, I am pleased to talk about the Maine State Legislature’s first bill of the session, LD 1 “An Act to Establish a COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights.” This bill is intended to protect Mainers as we continue to fight and rise out of this pandemic together.

As many of you may know, the first bill of each session is a critical one. My colleagues and I were certain that this Patient Bill of Rights was the correct bill to prioritize; the timing couldn’t be more crucial. We have a responsibility as elected officials to help people get the care they need when they need it. Just as important as getting care is making sure no one has to worry about whether they can afford that care.

While we’re all working together to combat this public health crisis, Mainers shouldn’t have to pay for tests or life-saving vaccines. This bill is the least we can do during an already difficult time. I am proud of this bill and proud to share it with you all.

LD 1 would require state-regulated health care plans to cover and waive co-pays for COVID-19 screenings, testing and vaccinations, as well as expand telehealth options in the state of Maine. This means plans for public employees, individuals and small groups who purchase plans through the marketplace, and those covered by MaineCare are protected by provisions in LD 1.

The bill contains other noteworthy protections.

For uninsured Mainers, LD 1 requires that COVID-19 testing sites inform them whether the test is covered under the current DHHS contract that offers free testing. If the site isn’t covered by the contract, patients must be informed of any costs for the test as well as other sites where they can get tested for free.

Another significant provision in this bill allows a wider array of health care providers to administer the vaccine, which will help ensure that Maine has the resources needed to efficiently distribute the vaccine as more doses become available.

The bill would also allow health care professionals to prescribe medications for a longer period of time during a state of an emergency, which would limit the number of trips folks have to make to the doctor’s office and pharmacy.

Lastly, this bill expands coverage to other populations as the FDA approves the COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use on more people, such as children under 16.

In a perfect world, all Mainers would be able to benefit from the provisions in LD 1. However, the state does not have the authority to regulate private self-funded, employer-based health insurance plans or Medicare products, including Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans. The federal government, not the state, must take action for those plans to be regulated. I am hopeful that federal officials will follow Maine’s lead on this issue, so that Mainers with private insurance as well as Americans across the country will be properly protected during this health crisis.

The pandemic has been hard enough on all of us. The last thing we need is to make the testing or vaccination processes more difficult or costly. We are beginning to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel, and I believe it is critical that we come out of it together. This bill aims to do just that, and I am pleased to share it with you all.

If you have any questions, comments or ideas, you can always reach out to me at [email protected] or by phone at 207-590-9902.

Joseph Rafferty is a member of the Maine State Senate representing District 34, Acton, Kennebunk, Lebanon, Moody, North Berwick, Wells, West Lebanon and part of Berwick. He can be reached at [email protected]

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