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Gov. Mills signs Patients First health care bills into law

"The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to make sure our health care system puts patients first," Senate President Troy Jackson said.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Earlier this week, Governor Janet Mills signed three of the Legislative Democrats’ Patients First bills into law. The new laws from Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, aim to protect Mainers from abusive billing, surprise emergency room billing, and the high-cost of lifesaving medication amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The fourth measure in the Patients First package sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson would create the Office of Affordable Health Care to advocate for Maine consumers and recommend ways to lower the cost of health care. It received unanimous support in the Legislature and is currently awaiting funding.

“Every single Mainer deserves access to affordable, quality health care. The recent public health crisis only increased the urgency of that very real need," Speaker Sara Gideon said. "When we put forward this proposal, our goal was to fix some of the most common and troublesome health care problems facing Mainers today. And since then, we have found that these very issues - affordable insulin and ending surprise billing in emergency care situations - become absolutely critical tools to help Mainers facing extreme hardship as a result of COVID-19. I’m proud of the bipartisan support this legislation received and will continue to work to improve our healthcare systems in every corner of Maine.”

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The first law from Speaker Gideon caps the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 for a 30-day supply for patients in the individual and small group markets, and allows pharmacies to provide patients insulin based on an old prescription in emergency situations – this is also known as “Kevin’s Law.” The second law protects patients from high-cost bills from out-of-network providers when they never had an opportunity to choose a cheaper option. A recent study shows that one in five inpatient emergency department cases may lead to surprise bills. Both laws were passed as emergency legislation and have gone into effect immediately.

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“Amid this public health crisis, protecting Mainers from abusive billing practices is paramount,” Sen. Claxton said. “I’m grateful to the Legislature for acting quickly and to the governor for signing it into law before we adjourned in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The new law from Sen. Claxton – LD 2111, “An Act to Establish Patient Protections in Billing for Health Care” – protects patients from abusive billing practices and unnecessary patient fees. It requires providers to alert patients when they’ve been referred out-of-network, gives Medicare patients more information about the potential cost of care, and protects patients from unnecessary, unexplained bills when they make appointments with new doctors or move between doctors. Almost 70 percent of Americans are worried about unexpected medical bills.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to make sure our health care system puts patients first. As many Mainers are finding themselves without work and are taking serious cautions to protect their health, the last thing they should be worried about is cost of care and abusive billing practices,” Senate President Jackson said. “I hope these bills will give Mainers some peace of mind as they navigate this period of uncertainty. I look forward to passing the final piece of the Patients First package when we eventually return to Augusta.”

The Maine Legislature expects to take up President Jackson’s bill – LD 2110, “An Act to Lower Health Care Costs” – when they reconvene for a special session following the end of the COVID-19 Civil Emergency.

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