A crowd of about 60 gathered in Portland’s Lincoln Park on Saturday to call for federal action on legislation extending Medicare benefits for all Americans.

Saturday morning’s event was one of many rallies around the country to push for universal health care coverage. Patty Kidder, a Maine People’s Alliance volunteer from Springvale, led the group in chants demanding “Medicare For All.” She applauded recent successes, including the Maine Legislature’s approval of dental coverage for MaineCare recipients this summer, but said much more needed to be done.

“These successes at the state and federal level are huge, and vital for so many Mainers,” she said. “But they are still just Band-Aids on our hemorrhaging, broken health care system. We need more. We all need 100 percent coverage, with no deductibles and no co-pays, no matter our age.”

To cheers from the crowd, she added, “We need improved Medicare for all, now!”

A crowd of more than 30 people cheer as Dr. Julie Pease, a psychiatrist who practices in Brunswick, speaks during a rally Saturday at Lincoln Park in Portland as part of a national effort to demand improved and expanded Medicare for everyone. The Portland rally, one of about 50 cities, was organized by several groups including Mainers for Accountable Leadership, Maine AllCare, Southern Maine Workers’ Center and People’s Housing Coalition. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Organizers from Mainers for Accountable Leadership, Maine AllCare, Southern Maine Workers’ Center and the Maine People’s Housing Coalition urged the crowd to contact their state and federal legislators. And a few state legislators were present on Saturday, including Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland; Rep. Heidi Brooks, D-Lewiston; and Poppy Arford, D-Brunswick.

“Literally, it’s about life or death,” said Chipman, who co-sponsored a bill to give MaineCare to all residents of the state. “And that’s why I’m so passionate about it.”

Chipman and others promoting Medicare for all argued that, if everyone joined the program, questions about cost would solve themselves. The “collective bargaining power” of the united American people would drive down prices, they predicted.

Otherwise, advocates said, society will continue to reap the untold costs of inadequate coverage. That includes the economic toll of mental illness and homelessness brought about by insufficient coverage or overwhelming bills.

Casey Johnston of Portland and Julie Pitt of Arundel chant during a rally at Lincoln Park in Portland on Saturday as part of a national effort to demand improved and expanded Medicare for everyone. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Delene Perley, a Portland resident who works at the Woodfords-area food pantry Project Feed, said she had recently encountered a client who said he had lost his savings and been forced to move his immediate family in with relatives because of health bills he couldn’t pay. Other patrons ask Perley not to give them food that’s hard to chew because they have had inadequate dental care, she said.

“How many people in other First World countries go bankrupt because of medical bills?” Perley asked.

The crowd answered: “None!”

While “none” may be an exaggeration, it’s true that Americans pay far more for health care, and are far more likely to go bankrupt facing overwhelming medical bills, than residents of many other wealthy countries. A Los Angeles Times review in 2019 found that “nearly all of America’s global competitors — whether they have government health plans, such as Britain and Canada, or rely on private insurers, such as Germany and the Netherlands — strictly limit out-of-pocket costs.”

This past session, the Maine Legislature passed L.D. 1045, “An Act To Support Universal Health Care,” which directs state officials to create a “Maine Health Care Plan” available for all. But the bill only takes effect if the federal government acts first to authorize universal health care. Brooks and Arford, who attended Saturday’s rally, were sponsors.

Arford passionately urged those present to “work, work, work” to help pass a federal version of the legislation.

“This is real, folks,” she said. “We are on the path. It can happen.”


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