January’s Legislative Session to Focus on Gun Violence and Health Care in Maine According to Advocacy Groups

AUGUSTA, Maine – The aftermath of October’s mass shooting in Lewiston is expected to dominate health-related discussions in Maine during the legislative session that began on Jan. 3. An array of health care organizations and advocacy groups are forecasting that gun violence will take center stage, alongside addressing the opioid crisis, improving resources for older adults, increasing reimbursement rates, and nursing staffing ratios.

The legislative session is set to adjourn April 17, providing a shorter period for introducing new legislation in addition to carrying over bills from the previous year. Dr. Paul R. Cain, president of the Maine Medical Association, expressed the need to advocate for sensible and effective gun safety legislation, alongside continuing efforts to reduce the alarming loss of life in Maine due to opioid use disorder.

Following Maine’s worst mass shooting last fall, which resulted in the death of 18 people, calls for tighter gun laws and improved mental health services have echoed throughout the state. The Maine nurses union expressed support for gun safety legislation, including a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons, while MaineHealth endorsed evidence-based legislation to address gun violence, such as implementing a waiting period.

In addition to gun safety legislation, some groups are advocating to increase access to health care coverage. Both the Maine Medical Association and Maine Hospital Association are backing LD 796, which aims to address insurance carriers that refuse to provide reimbursement for medically necessary care.

On the other hand, the Maine Hospital Association opposes LD 1639, which seeks to establish minimum direct-care registered nurse staffing levels. The organization argues that such minimum ratios would cost Maine hospitals nearly $100 million per year.

The Maine State Nurses Association strongly supports the bill, citing data from California’s implementation of nurse-to-patient ratios showing that patients are safer when such ratios are enforced.

The legislative session is also poised to address other critical issues: child protective services, long-term care, and behavioral health. Lawmakers are exploring opportunities to review and develop long-term solutions for these key service areas to better meet the needs of Maine’s population.

The Maine Health Care Association emphasized the chronic underfunding of nursing homes and residential care facilities, which has resulted in dozens of closures and conversions of long-term care facilities since 2012. The organization aims to work with the governor’s administration to overhaul the MaineCare payment model for nursing homes and residential care.

The Maine Public Health Association’s priorities for the session include gun violence prevention, ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, and recognizing Wabanaki self-determination, among other public health challenges. Taking a preventive and proactive approach to policy-making is crucial in helping all people in Maine lead healthy, fulfilling, and economically secure lives.

This comprehensive legislative session reflects the pressing need to address multifaceted health-related issues and highlights the diverse approaches advocated by various health care organizations and advocacy groups in Maine.