As ACA deadline looms, Maine doctors show support for single-payer health care

With March 31 fast approaching as the deadline to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care act, the state’s largest physicians group has released new survey results showing Maine doctors favor a very different kind of health reform.

The survey of Maine Medical Association members shows nearly two-thirds of doctors prefer a single-payer health care system.

Conducted in January and completed by more than 450 respondents, the survey asked:

When considering the topic of health care reform, would you prefer to make improvements to the current public/private system or a single-payer system such as a “Medicare for all” approach?

Nearly 65 percent of doctors preferred the single-payer option, a jump from about 52 percent in a 2008 MMA survey asking the same question.

Single-payer health systems cover everyone under a publicly funded insurance plan run by a single entity, often the government. All hospitals, doctors, and other health providers bill that entity for their services.

Supporters of the “Medicare for all” approach advocate expanding that government program to cover all Americans, not just those over age 65 and people with disabilities.

The Affordable Care Act, on the other hand, is built on the existing system, with some people covered through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid and most others through private insurance offered through their jobs. The law drastically reforms one, relatively small part of the existing system — private insurance for people who don’t get coverage through work or government programs. These are the people health advocates want to sign up for coverage through by March 31, the last day of open enrollment.

(In Maine, about 34,000 people carried individual health coverage before the ACA, compared to 223,000 with coverage through an employer, roughly 500,000 with public health insurance, and 133,000 with no insurance.)

In the MMA survey, doctors’ answers varied depending on their speciality, practice size and ownership structure. Primary care providers and psychiatrists were more likely to favor a single-payer approach, as were doctors from larger practices (serving between 1,000 and 2,000 patients). Radiologists and anesthesiologists, on the other hand, preferred reforming the existing system. Respondents from practices wholly owned by physicians, rather than hospitals, also were less likely to prefer the single-payer option.

The survey found no difference in responses based on age or geographic location.

Most of the respondents were doctors, while 15 percent were medical students. In all, they represent about 13 percent of MMA’s membership. The survey was conducted by Crescendo Consulting Group in Portland as part of a grant awarded to MMA by the Maine Health Access Foundation.

While the survey showed strong support for a single-payer system, MMA’s official position on health reform is support for universal coverage for all Mainers through a combination of public and private health plans.



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Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.