By Prudent Ndiho

Health care is very expensive in the U.S. and many families live in daily distress about medical expenses. Politicians win or lose elections over health care, and there is no debate that does not include the issue. Health care is critical to every human being, yet it is unaffordable for too many people, both here and abroad.

There are several programs designed to help low income individuals with health care costs. These include Medicaid, which in Maine is called MaineCare, and Care Partners, which coordinates donated health care services for low-income, uninsured residents of Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Waldo, and York counties. Some people have health insurance provided through their jobs. However, many families don’t have access to employer-based health insurance and are not eligible for these programs. These families fight to make ends meet, surviving from paycheck to paycheck. Then, when they get sick, because they have no health coverage, they have no choice but to go to the emergency room, where the cost of treatment is very high.

Newcomers to Maine come from different “medical” backgrounds. Some people come from countries where health care is readily available, and others do not. But in general, health care is an issue of great concern all around the world. For instance, in my country, Burundi, some advanced treatments aren’t available, so people who are able, go abroad to seek medical assistance – and those not able suffer and even die in silence. In addition, if you go to some hospitals in Burundi, you will see many medical “hostages.” These are patients who could not pay their bills, and so are not allowed to return home. So many people simply try natural remedies at home, because they are afraid to be stuck in the hospital. In Burundi, it is correct to say that poverty is the main cause of premature mortality.

The struggle to pay for medical coverage is real. So, what should we do? If you live in Maine and you have a low income or don’t have a job yet, you are eligible for free or reduced-cost care from many health care providers. All you need to do is to go to the financial assistance office at facilities like Maine Medical Center and provide proof of your income or other source of provision. For those who are not eligible for reduced costs, most health care providers will help you set up an extended payment plan so that you don’t need to pay a large medical bill all at once. They also may have finance offices that can help you find other options for payments or for reduced-cost health care services.