We all know the saying: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Well, I’ve heard of too many older Maine people who have suffered from a household fall and then faced months of costly hospital visits and doctor’s bills. So, in an effort to help older Maine people ‘Stand Strong’ throughout their golden years – while also saving theirs and taxpayers’ dollars – I am working to provide Maine adults with cost-effective prevention measures and resources.

In 2021 alone, Maine had over 325 deaths from adult falls and our state ranked 8th highest in the nation per capita on the rate of deaths due to falls. When you look nationwide, over three million older people are treated in emergency rooms for falls on average, yearly. That is too many loved ones injuring themselves—or worse—from events that are entirely preventable.

The good news is that we have an ‘ounce of prevention” approach to help Maine’s older people. Last month, I introduced two bills as the ‘Stand Strong’ legislative package, which will directly address these challenges and ensure older Maine people have access to preventative care resources. The ‘Stand Strong’ package is a combination of two bills: the Preventative Home Visits Act and the WELL Seniors Act. Together, these bills will expand Medicare benefits to help with home improvements, make telehealth more accessible and include comprehensive screenings during Medicare Annual Wellness Visits.

‘Stand Strong’ interventions can be as simple as installing a grab bar or signing up for an exercise class that improves balance — and the cost-effectiveness is clear-cut. Hospitalizations are expensive, and the cost to Medicare and other payers to replace a hip can be tens of thousands of dollars. In terms of direct medical expenditures, falls cost our healthcare system $50 billion annually, with 76% of that borne by Medicare and Medicaid. The CDC estimates that the 2014 total direct cost of treating non-fatal falls in Maine was $255 million. However, direct costs do not account for the long-term effects of these injuries, such as disability, dependence on others, lost time from work and household duties, and reduced quality of life.

Telehealth has also played a huge role in making sure Maine people stay healthy — especially for those of you who live in rural communities. In the past, many had to travel a half a tank of gas away to get care. All too often, I heard stories of people that decided to postpone the doctor’s visit and cross their fingers for another couple of months. But today, more families across our state can regularly and conveniently attend doctor appointments online which is why these bills include telehealth provisions.

So, the way I see it, this boils down to simple math. We could continue to have millions of Americans visit ERs every year because of falls – with an annual cost of $50 billion – or we could utilize telehealth and expand Medicare benefits to cover the cost of a $400 shower rail or $200 leaning bar—helping older Americans get around their homes safely and ‘Stand Strong.’

It’s clear we need to do everything we can to keep older Maine people on their feet and thriving. From supporting them with grab bars to expanding access to medical professionals, we’d be offering them that ounce of prevention and taking a good first step to avoid costly injuries.

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