All across the state families sit around the kitchen table each night trying to figure out how to stretch their budget to make ends meet and afford health care. I know because I hear it from Mainers every day, and most of all, I know because I’ve been there. A single mother  in Kennebec County told me that she often resorts to skipping her own care because she never knows how much her son’s care will cost. Her son has significant health needs, and without estimates from their provider or insurance company, it’s impossible to budget.

Mainers like her already have enough on their plate without having to jump through hoops to satisfy insurance companies or try to understand where all the fees on their medical bill came from. Families deserve better than a health care system that leaves people behind or without outrageous bills and nowhere to turn. It’s time for a health care system that puts patients before profits. That’s why legislative Democrats have introduced a suite of legislation that puts Maine patients first.

Our Patients First Health Care package gives Mainers a fighter in their corner when they go up against big insurance companies. It clamps down on patient fees and puts an end to abusive billing practices. It also protects Mainers from spending their life savings on insulin.

According to the latest data, Maine spends more than the national average on health care per capita, and there are real consequences for people. One in seven Mainers has forgone treatment or care because the costs were just too high. These four bills aim to reverse this trend.

I’ve introduced legislation to create the Maine Commission on Affordable Health Care, which would rein in costs by identifying what is driving sky-high prices and aims to limit increases in the amount we pay for health care annually. By understanding what’s driving the high cost of care and getting costs under control, we can make it easier for Maine families to make ends meet and get quality care.

A number of states, including our neighbors in Vermont and Massachusetts, already have similar commissions doing this important work, and they’re getting results. For example, Massachusetts saw $7.2 billion in health care savings for patients and businesses. These states look out for their residents, Maine should do the same.

We’re also taking on abusive billing practices and patient fees. My colleague, Sen. Ned Claxton from Auburn, has a bill to establish patient protections in billing. After a long career as a family physician, Sen. Claxton has witnessed firsthand how billing and fees stand in the way of getting patients the care they need. His bill puts patients back in control of their health care decisions. It protects patients from being blindsided by late or out-of-network bills and cuts abusive fees. It also requires providers to disclose how much care will cost the patient.

Finally, Speaker Sara Gideon has introduced legislation to protect Mainers from surprise emergency medical bills and cap insulin costs. There are too many stories of hardworking Americans being rushed to the emergency room in a crisis only to be saddled with bills and debt upon recovery. The situation is so bad that NPR has a segment where they feature a different surprise medical bill of the month. If that’s not a sign that things need to change, I don’t know what is.

Take Colleen from Brunswick, for example. She has a good job, decent health insurance and is in relatively good health. Recently she decided to see a specialist that she hadn’t seen in a few years as a part of her preventive care. But when she got her bill, she was hit with a $427 “new patient fee.” At first, she thought there was some mistake; she had seen this specialist before.

However, after a long back and forth between her insurance company and doctor’s office, she learned this wasn’t a mistake. So on top of paying for co-pays, prescriptions and her deductible, Colleen is on the hook for a $427 administrative fee that she didn’t budget for. Her story is all too common.

There’s no doubt that health care is complicated. It’s why politicians have often thrown up their hands in frustration. But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean that putting patients first should be. People should be able to focus on getting themselves or their loved ones the care they need. That’s what our Patients First health care package is all about — shaking up our health care system and delivering for hardworking Mainers, like Colleen.

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