It's impossible to predict the future, obviously, but we at the Phoenix have peered into our crystal ball in search of important issues that will arise in 2011. Herewith, our summary of what to watch out for:
Healthcare in Maine
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama in March, will roll out significant health-insurance reforms between now and 2014. The new law changes the rules for health insurers, who are now prohibited from denying coverage or refusing claims based on pre-existing conditions; the law also expands Medicaid eligibility, subsidizes insurance premiums to provide incentives for businesses to provide health-care benefits, and establishes health-insurance exchanges to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy insurance. It requires that all citizens be insured, and subsidizes plans for people who can't afford them. Some changes have already been put into place, including allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26, and the issuing of a $250 Medicare rebate to seniors to help close a gap in prescription-drug coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 32 million of America's 50 million uninsured will have coverage once all the changes have been put in place (the majority by 2014).
In the summer of 2010, the state legislature established the Joint Select Committee on Health Care Reform "to study and analyze the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and to determine how best to comply with it," according to a July 4 op-ed by state senator Margaret Craven, a Democrat from Lewiston. "The committee will determine which state laws, rules and policies need to be changed, the dates by which they need to be changed, and options in the Affordable Care Act that the state may wish to adopt."
But the work of that committee, presented to the public last month, might be for naught. Governor-elect Paul LePage pledged during his campaign to repeal Maine's Dirigo Health plan, and he's vowed since Election Day to join a lawsuit challenging a key portion of Obama's plan. LePage favors private health-care options and "more choices in Maine's health care market," according to his Web site. We'll see in 2011 how much of the Affordable Care Act makes it to Maine.
Food for all
On December 8, the Campaign to Promote Food Security in Cumberland County Coalition — comprised of representatives from TD Bank, the United Way of Greater Portland, Preble Street, the Muskie School of Public Service, and several other organizations — presented a report showing that even in relatively affluent Cumberland County, "there has been a steady rise in food insecurity and increased demand for food resources." More than 12 percent of Cumberland County residents depend on government assistance (i.e., food stamps or WIC benefits) for food purchases, according to the report — and many food pantries are reporting an increase in clients served, combined with a decrease in food to distribute.
The coalition called for a number of changes in 2011, including a campaign to decrease food-stamp stigma, an increase in federal food benefits, expansion of school-lunch programs, especially during the summer, creation of more (better) transportation options to get food to needy people, and development of farm-to-pantry programs that were successfully piloted in the county in 2010. The Good Shepherd Food-Bank, for example, received a $300,000 from the Maine-based JTG Foundation in 2009 to distribute local foods to hungry families in 2010. The grant allowed the food pantry to pay wholesale prices to farms. Penny Jordan, of Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth, praised the program and called for more partnerships like it.