Improving access to affordable health care is one of the central goals of my colleagues and me — whether we are in a pandemic or not. However, during this pandemic Mainers have had to confront a slew of completely new health care challenges. To acknowledge this new reality and promote public health, Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) with Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) proposed a bill called LD 1, “An Act to Establish a COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights.”

Susan Deschambault Courtesy photo

The bill would require state-regulated health care plans to cover all screenings, testing and vaccinations for COVID-19. It would also expand telehealth options so Mainers can get faster care, lengthen their prescriptions to delay trips to the pharmacy, and ensure that people without health insurance have better information regarding any costs associated with COVID-19 tests.

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of LD 1, the real driving force of this bill is to honor a belief I share with my colleagues that health care is a human right. While it is true that COVID-19 has completely turned our worlds upside down, no one should have to choose between paying for their grocery bill and getting a COVID-19 test.

The Patient Bill of Rights makes sure Mainers can always put the health of themselves and their loved ones first when it comes to this virus. It increases access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines so people can prioritize public health measures to combat this virus. More people having access to tests and vaccinations means lower rates of community transmission, smaller burdens on hospitals, and eventually increased community immunity that will be so critical to us returning to our pre-pandemic ways.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of when we first had to quarantine here in Maine, so much of how we live our lives, conduct business, and get medical help has changed. It is important we update Maine’s laws to reflect that. Under LD 1, health care professionals would be able to prescribe patients a larger supply of most medications during a state emergency (excluding opioids and other potentially hazardous medicine).

Secondly, telehealth has become a lot more popular during COVID-19. An in-person visit to the doctor is not always necessary, and it helps reduce physical contact with people outside of our immediate network. However, some Mainers do not have a smartphone or a computer with a camera feature to have a video telehealth appointment. To account for that, LD 1 would make it feasible to have audio-only telehealth appointments.

Other parts of this bill include expanding the pool of health care providers who are eligible to administer the vaccine. This means that the more vaccines we receive, the faster we can vaccinate more people. Also, LD 1 only covers Mainers who have public insurance, because the state only has legal authority over health care plans for public employees, individuals and small groups that buy plans on the marketplace and those covered under MaineCare.

I hope that the federal government will adopt these same measures for private insurance. To keep updated about the status of the COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights, follow me on Facebook or subscribe to my weekly newsletter at www.mainesenate.org.

If you have any questions about LD 1, or if I can help you with anything else related to state government, please reach out to me at [email protected] or 207-287-1515.

State Senator Susan Deschambault represents Senate District 32, Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman. She can be reached at 207-287-1515 or [email protected]

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