Last year, I learned that patients in Maine could effectively be denied access to the licensed health care provider of their choice when a woman from Old Orchard Beach, Mary, shared her health care story with me. Mary suffers from Lyme Disease - an infectious disease that is becoming increasingly more common in Maine. Yet, she had difficult time finding doctor who specializes in Lyme treatment that would also be covered by insurance. After finding a naturopathic doctor that worked for her, she was excited to learn that Affordable Care Act required naturopathic doctors to be covered by insurance. Unfortunately, her private insurance representative told her that, while the naturopathic doctor was a covered provider, her specific insurance policy did not cover naturopathy.
Mary’s experience is far from unique. Apparently, loopholes in the law allowed insurance companies to opt-out of covering health care providers offering holistic, alternative or naturopathic treatment, even if that treatment is licensed, certified or registered by the state of Maine. Insurance companies shouldn’t get to choose what type treatment they want to cover, especially if the treatment is recognized as legitimate by the state.
That didn’t seem right and I knew I had to act. As lawmakers, it’s our responsibility to make sure our policies improve the lives of Maine people not hinder them. Other states, like New Hampshire and Vermont, had laws to prevent insurance from discriminating against naturopathic doctors. Why shouldn’t the state enact the same basic protections for Maine patients?
So I decided to take on insurance companies head-on. No easy feat. I introduced legislation to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against licensed naturopathic doctors acting within their scope of practice. I spent over a year working with my colleagues on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee to get this bill right.
After many months of inter-department studies, it was determined from the administration that not only would this mandate on insurance companies not raise premiums, it has the potential to create real cost savings for consumers.
In this political environment, it’s not easy to point to successes or to find bipartisan accomplishments. But in the case of reforming our outdated system of providing care, I found a path forward. Despite the governor’s opposition, this bill received widespread bipartisan support and became law overriding a gubernatorial veto. Now, more Mainers will be able to get the health care they so desperately need. I worked hand-in-hand with my Republican colleagues to hold insurance companies accountable and close loopholes in Maine law to ensure Maine health care consumers come first.
At the end of the day, mainstream health care does not work for everyone, especially when it comes to less understood illnesses or diseases. Mainers should be able to explore all possible treatment options that can improve their illness or condition. We have a long way to go to make health care more accessible and more affordable in this country. I’ll keep fighting to make sure the health care interests of Maine people are our priority in Augusta, not insurance companies.
Justin Chenette is serving his first term in the Maine Senate as the youngest Senator representing the communities of Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington, and part of Buxton. He currently serves on the Taxation Committee and the Senate Committee on Conduct & Ethics.
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Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco