The Maine legislature is considering a proposal for single-payer health care. Representative Heidi Brooks and Senator Geoffrey Gratwick introduced LD 1274 in April. The legislature’s Committee on Insurance and Financial Services on May 4 heard citizens’ comments on the bill.
The title of the proposed bill is “An Act to Promote Universal Health Care, Including Dental, Vision and Hearing Care.” Maine AllCare, the Maine affiliate of Physicians for a National Health Program, had agitated for the bill’s introduction. In conjunction with the Maine State Nurses Association and the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, the group staged a rally near the State House prior to the hearing.
The writer, who formerly worked as a pediatrician, joined others in testifying before the Committee. An edited version of his remarks follows:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I worked as a pediatrician for many years in Norway, Maine and have two points to make in regard to LD 1274.
One, it’s time to put first things first. Huge numbers of children and mothers giving birth are dying. The maternal mortality rate has doubled in recent years. And the infant mortality rate, the number of first – year deaths for every set of one thousand births, is very high.
How high? In 2015, for every 1000 births in the United States, six babies died during their first year. There were 3,978,497 babies born that year, or 3978 sets of 1000 each. With each set yielding six deaths, there were thus 23,878 infant deaths in all.
Infant mortality rates elsewhere in the world are much lower than six, in some countries less than three. If somehow the United States had achieved an infant mortality rate of four in 2015, infant deaths would have been 14,912 in all. Being saddled with a rate of six, however, we added another 8966 infant deaths to that fantasy total. These are babies that, born in many other countries, wouldn’t have died.
Amnesty International, having recently looked at excess maternal deaths in the United States, proclaimed that human rights were being violated. That organization condemned diminished access to prenatal care.
The deaths of infants and mothers resulted in part from reduced access to health care, which harks back to poverty. They need not have occurred. That’s clear as regards babies, because at least 50 other nations have lower infant mortality rates than the U. S. rate.
I believe that mass deaths of mothers and infants take precedence over questions like who is going to pay or what do insurance companies and hospitals want. Not even the death toll on September 11, 2001 comes close to the numbers we are dealing with.
Here’s my second point: somebody has to be responsible. I think back to when I cared for children with bacterial meningitis. Without antibiotics that disease killed half the afflicted children and left most survivors mentally handicapped. My job had demands, but really it was easy, because when children were seen early, they did fine.
I think about John. He was a young child with cognitive delay when I first saw him. I reviewed his old records. As a baby, he’d been sick at home for a week. At the hospital they found he had meningitis. His seizures continued for another week there. Who, I ask, is responsible for children like John whose care was delayed or non-existent?
I was responsible when a child was sick. But who takes prime responsibility when children or mothers don’t get care, or care is delayed? Hospitals, doctors, the drug companies, the insurance companies can’t. You have responsibility, I think, as representatives of all the people.
Sadly, but perhaps understandably, we talk mostly about health care for individuals and not much about health care for people as a whole. I think that ought to change; we need to talk about the public’s health. That’s where legislatures and governments come in. In my view you are the ones who must deal with the great problem of people being excluded from care – and dying.
You have the tool in your hands, a plan for health care for everybody, single-payer health care. It costs too much, you may say. But no one asked about money when, after September 11, the United States launched seemingly endless war in response to that earlier calamity. Besides, single – payer health care will cost less than our present system does, because profiteering will be restrained.