While medical care may not be a constitutional right, it is critical to life itself. And that’s why I am concerned about the effort of our president and Congress to reduce the federal government’s help with health insurance and care.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have good medical insurance and care. I’ve had high blood pressure since I was a teenager. In 2004, I had a stent put in to open a clogged artery. Later, from time to time, my heartbeats would slow to the point where I would faint. The last time that happened, Linda and I were in a restaurant, enjoying a dinner for our travel column.

I dropped to the floor, then woke up with lots of guests and servers surrounding me — the chef told me later he was quite concerned at that point about what kind of column he’d get.

I ended up in the hospital’s cardiac unit that night, and a week later, had a loop recorder inserted in my chest to record high and low heartbeats. Every three months, I call a Portland lab, hold the phone up to my chest, and the results go to the lab over the phone. Amazing.

I continue to have health challenges and to be thankful for my medical team and my insurance. In the early days, I had medical insurance through my employer. When I started my own consulting business, I had my own insurance plan for a few years, then switched to Linda’s plan when she began teaching.

I was on that plan for more than 20 years until I qualified for Medicare, which I use along with a supplemental policy.

Nevertheless, insurance doesn’t cover all medical costs, and I am currently in the “donut hole,” which requires much higher deductibles for a while. Fortunately, we can afford that. But I’ve been wondering what people do who can’t afford insurance or high deductibles.

The Maine Hospital Association reports that the bill being pushed in the Senate would cut health care spending in Maine by more than $1 billion in the next 10 years. And another analysis reported that 32 million Americans would lose their insurance if that bill is enacted. This is certainly taking us in the wrong direction.

Maine’s Susan Collins, as one of the Senate’s only independent thinkers, once again in a critical position on this issue, has said she will vote against the bill. After all, Mitchell Stein, a Maine-based health policy analyst, said of this bill, “In some ways, it’s the worst of the bunch. The insurance companies wouldn’t have to cover people. All consumer protections that are built into the ACA would go away.”

Without doubt, the federal health care plan needs improvements. But what we don’t need is the removal of health care coverage and insurance for people.

I have a good friend who suffers from a life-threatening illness that will eventually require a kidney transplant. She has insurance through the ACA and is frantic that it will end, leading to an early death for her.

Recently, she told me, “Honestly, I feel so upset that not only do I have to fight this disease that I have, I also have to fight in, for, and around the system that is supposed to be caring for me. This latest Graham-Cassidy bill has me worried because it specifically targets people with pre-existing conditions. I am afraid that just at the point when I need to get my kidney transplant, no insurance will take me and I’m going to bankrupt my family just when my children are in college. It seems remarkably unfair for someone who has been paying into the system for 30 years.”

Yes, it is remarkably unfair and so wrong to put people in that position.

And insurance isn’t the only medical problem faced by Mainers. A recent story in this newspaper reported on the loss of maternity services throughout rural Maine. Pregnant women in Calais, for example, now have a two-hour drive to Bangor to deliver their babies.

I remember how frantic I was during the half-hour drive from Mount Vernon to Augusta where Linda delivered our children. I can’t imagine a two-hour drive.

While we can hope that our members of Congress — Angus King, Susan Collins, Bruce Poliquin, and Chellie Pingree — will stand up for health care for all Mainers, a long-term plan to assure that we can all live healthy lives isn’t something we can anticipate from this Congress and president. Very worrisome.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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