Maine has been leading the country in driving down the cost of prescription drugs and in the last two months has moved to do the same for health insurance. In September, the Maine legislature enacted a bill to set the wheels in motion for establishing a universal health-care system for all Maine residents.

Now, the city of Portland has passed a referendum supporting a universal health system. There is little doubt that the people of Maine are sending a message to the rest of the country, especially to Congress, that there is a crisis in health care and it is time to act now.

Why is Maine in front?

Residents of the state, long angry about the price of drugs, have become regular visitors to Canada to purchase their prescription drugs at a far lower price. The logical question arose, why should residents have to travel to Canada … why not provide the same affordable drugs here in Maine?

That simple question resulted in Maine becoming the first state to enact a law forcing drug manufacturers to lower prices to affordable levels. They generally are using European prices as a guideline.

A similar questioning took place in regard to providing coverage for the 175,000 Maine residents without health insurance. Why not cover them now? As a result of the legislature’s bill and the Portland referendum, they are well on their way to becoming covered.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and 28 other members of the House of Representatives have authored a resolution for universal health care, taking the Maine initiative and similar ones elsewhere and making them a national movement.

The AFL-CIO has targeted health insurance as a major issue in Congress’ socioeconomic recovery package. Conyers’ resolution fits nicely into that scenario.

Opposition in high gear

The opposition to drug pricing regulations and universal health insurance has no shame. The drug cartels initially called for a boycott of sales to Maine. Anthem Insurance Company of Indiana, which recently bought Maine’s non-profit Blue Cross-Blue Shield, is leading the fight against calls for universal health insurance.

The medical-industrial complex, led by the drug and insurance monopolies, fears that the example of Maine might be followed across the country and that Congress might be compelled to act.

There is no time like the present to pressure every member of Congress to support the Conyers resolution as the first step toward universal health insurance in our country. At the same time, Congress must act to make all drugs available at affordable prices.