I recently attended an event at Portland City Hall for a nonprofit organization called Protect Our Care. The group’s mission is to spread the word about the importance of improving our health care system and making sure all people have access to the quality care they need.

Its current campaign started in Maine, which, I think, is a very fitting place to start any movement. After all, as Maine goes, so goes the nation. I agreed to speak at this event because access to quality, affordable health care remains one of the primary motivations for my work in the Senate. I wanted to continue this important conversation here.

Joseph Rafferty

As many know, I’m a retired school teacher and worked for over 40 years in public education. I’m currently entering my 45th season as a football coach, which also keeps me in contact with families throughout our community. As a former negotiator for our local teacher’s union, our top priority in recent years has been maintaining our current level of health care coverage.

It is a constant battle because of the escalating costs. Since being elected to the Legislature, the need for access to affordable care continues to be a topic of conversation when I hear from people in my community. Whether it’s someone’s sibling, a neighbor or a constituent in my district reaching out for help, I hear about these concerns all the time.

I recently attended a fundraiser for a community member diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, this is hardly a unique event, as Go Fund Me campaigns to help pay for people’s medical care are more and more common.

While it is heartwarming to see our communities look out for one another when they are in need, I believe in a future where these kind of fundraisers aren’t necessary to begin with to make sure people get the care they need. I believe we should be exploring every option to ensure that Mainers don’t have to put their life at risk because going to the doctor might bankrupt their family. Most of us are one unplanned medical need away from a financial crisis that may impact our family for generations.

This issue is personal for me, like it is for a lot of you. I have three older sisters. Early last week, I got a call from one of my sisters who has some complications from diabetes. One of my other sisters drove her to the pharmacy to get her medication, and when she got there the pharmacist said to her, “You know, you’re in the doughnut hole now.”

My sister was stunned and unfamiliar with that terminology. The pharmacist explained that this means she is in a “coverage gap,” and although we’re only in August, she had used up her plans’ coverage for the cost of this medicine for the year. That means for the next four months my sister will have to pay entirely out of pocket for this medicine that she needs to live. What sense does it make to say to a person, “We know you need this medicine for the whole year, but we’re only willing to cover the first eight months’ worth.”

This is a system that cannot stand.

This past year, the Maine Legislature passed the COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights, improved drug price transparency, improved access to telehealth, funded preventive dental care and so much more. While I’m really proud of this work, I know it’s not enough.

The Protect Our Care event I attended, and our combined efforts moving forward, will help to keep pressure on Congress to do right. The American Rescue Plan made it easier for working families to afford quality health care plans through the Affordable Care Act. In Maine, my colleagues and I will continue to fight to lower health care costs. But we can’t do it alone. It’s time for Congress to act. Maine people are counting on it.

You may be asking, “What can I do to help?” The answer is simple.

Keep the pressure on your local and federal legislators with calls and letters to do the right thing. Health care is a necessity for everyone, and it is time Congress treated it that way.

If you ever have any comments or questions, you can always reach out to me at [email protected] or by phone at 207-590-9902. If you want to stay even more up to date on what we’re working on in Augusta, sign up for my newsletter at mainesenate.org.

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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