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Kennebec Journal - "Manchester forum focus is health"

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Location: Manchester, ME


Kennebec Journal - "Manchester forum focus is health"

The Maine Medical Association on Tuesday challenged candidates running for the 1st Congressional District to get specific about how they would fix the nation's health-care crisis.

Their answers provided not only information for the physicians gathered at the event, but an array of ideas from improving the use of technology to creating a single payer health-care system.

And with four weeks to go until the June 10 primary, the six Democrats and two Republicans are looking for ways to appeal to voters.

All but one of the eight people running attended the event at the medical association headquarters in Manchester. York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence was absent.

The candidates are all hoping to take the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Unlike other, more general forums, this one focused on health-care issues. It was, by one candidate's count, the 30th time the Democrats in the race had come together for a forum.

Each candidate -- Republicans and Democrats -- had five minutes to outline their solutions to improve health care.

Republican Dean Scontras, of Eliot, said he would reduce regulation and allow Americans to cross state lines to get health insurance, much in the same way car insurance is available.

"In Maine, we've regulated the heck out of it," he said.

He also said his background in information technology has shown him that electronic medical records can become a reality and that they will reduce cost.

His opponent in the Republican primary, Charlie Summers, of Scarborough, made his first local appearance at a forum after returning from duty in Iraq.

He favors allowing the cost of health insurance to be a tax deduction, and said small businesses from across the country should be able to pool their resources and buy insurance together.

Summers said he doesn't support creating new, big universal health-care plans.

"To try and take a bold step and create a whole other bureaucracy is not necessarily the right step," he said.

On the Democratic side, Chellie Pingree of North Haven said a big idea is exactly what's needed.

She supports single-payer health care.

"You have to start with a big idea," she said. "You have to have mandated coverage."

Pingree said the issue of health care can no longer be left to the states to handle, that government should be able to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, and that there should be better preventative care.

For his part, Democrat Adam Cote of Portland said he's tired of all those television commercials pushing different drugs. He'd like to limit those, which he believes would push down the cost of prescription medicine.

Cote said he favors a hybrid approach to universal access to health care, which means those currently covered could keep their plan and others could join a plan similar to what's offered to members of Congress.

"I'm in support of student loan repayment programs for primary care physicians," he said.

Ethan Strimling, of Portland, a Democratic state senator, said the first order of business should be covering the 47 million Americans who have no coverage.

"That's where the conversation must begin," he said. "We have to be bold. We can't tinker around the edges anymore."

Democrat Steve Meister, a pediatrician who lives in Winthrop, said he's not sure single payer plans will provide the best quality of care. He said any plan should be portable and focus on preventative medicine.

He also said trust must be restored.

"Physicians take a lot of money from drug companies," he said. "We need to be in charge of health care."

As a licensed clinical social worker, Democrat Michael Brennan, of Portland, said treating mental and physical health are important to a successful system. He supports a national single-payer system similar to Medicare, but with more benefits.

He said the federal government should be able to negotiate prescription drug prices, and that the cost of end-of-life care needs to be examined.

"We really need to have a serious discussion about end-of-life care," he said.


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