There is already substantial blood on the hands of America’s broken health care system. Barring any large societal change, the livelihood of the American people will soon be in grave jeopardy. A jeopardy, I fear, is teetering on the brink of crisis as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am just an average 25-year-old graduate student working two jobs and navigating the consistent challenge year-to-year of securing somewhat-decent health coverage without breaking the bank. Last July, my university wrote to us: “In response to student concerns related to the cost of student health insurance …”

Now, you might hope the sentence that followed would’ve been: “We have found a more affordable option.” Instead, the university was removing the insurance requirement altogether. Students needed to secure coverage via a guardian, job or the government marketplace. The same (unaffordable) plan remained available voluntarily, except it would now not be included in tuition (and therefore loans or aid can’t be used to cover the cost) and the students would have to pay the university’s insurance broker directly.

This wouldn’t be so bad, if the adjustments actually accounted for the holes in our current health and education systems. Instead of fixing the hole (i.e., offering an affordable plan), the university applied a Band-Aid suitable for a paper cut, except that the hole is actually a broken leg. What these “solutions” fail to address is a myriad of barriers including navigating our country’s confusing marketplace platforms, needing access to resources to make informed decisions, the lack of affordable options and the reality that low-income students often fall through the cracks of educational systems not designed to keep them afloat. This is coupled with the light that the ongoing pandemic is shedding on how disjointed, politicized and monetized our current approach to mental and physical care is.

Regardless of beliefs, it is clear that at the root of nearly every concern is the unabashed truth that we work for capitalism and capitalism does not work for us. The system is designed in a way that takes money directly from an individual’s pocket. In exchange, that individual might receive mediocre care but only if they’re lucky enough to afford it. Thus, breaking down barriers should be the goal, not building more walls. Regardless of identity or place in this world: all people deserve to be able to afford the care they need. Period.

Last October, a survey was conducted in Maine that focused on health care affordability. The data are stark and alarming. What stuck out the most to me is that 80% of Mainers are worried about affording health care in the future and 63% had difficulty affording care presently. This was true across income levels. Younger Maine residents faced the most burdens of all surveyed age groups. Additionally, across party lines, these are burdens that Mainers are seeking to resolve.

What’s abundantly clear is that we have a huge problem to face. The people of Maine need a cultural shift in the way that the state approaches and thinks about the accessibility, affordability and availability of robust mental and physical care before the problem’s severity far outweighs our collective capacity to produce solutions.

When everyday Mainers – like myself – are having to make the choice between paying rent on time or receiving necessary care; it’s (past) time to take action. This isn’t a paper cut. Hell, it’s not even a broken leg. The people of Maine are on ventilators – literally and figuratively – fighting for our lives. At some point – literally and figuratively – those ventilators will run out. When they inevitably do, the lives of real, Maine people will be, and have already been, lost. These people matter. They always mattered. It’s the system that didn’t value them to begin with.

So, Gov. Mills and the Maine Legislature, here’s what I have to say: the clock is ticking. How long until it times out?

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