Selling Sickness 2013

what we can learn from china, maine

The charmingly named China, Maine, is a small American town of about 5000 souls in the middle of a small northern state. None of us in the healthcare reform community would ever have heard of it (unless we favored summer fishing vacations!) were it not for a statewide alliance of consumers, providers, and payers founded in 2003 called Maine Quality Counts.

China’s town manager (the small town equivalent of a mayor) Dan L’Heureux participates in Maine Quality Counts in an effort to understand and influence the healthcare situation, especially in terms of the crisis of rising medical and health insurance costs. In the last decade, China, Maine has seen health insurance costs for its 11 town employees go up 141 percent while the town’s overall budget went up only 42 percent. Uh-Oh. The consequences for his budget have been drastic, with reduced services and repairs detailed in a recent US News and World Report story.

L’Heureux’s situation came to the awareness of national reporters because of the work of independent health writer Rosemary Gibson, a long-time friend of Selling Sickness. Rosemary’s growing list of influential books  has focused on overuse and overtreatment and she is a member of Maine Quality Counts. She met L’Heureux at their annual conference.

Rosemary then brought L’Heureux to last December’s influential Lown Foundation conference  where they conducted a spellbinding and unexpectedly emotional conversation focused on the dilemmas faced in China, Maine’s situation because of the excesses and outrages of our current healthcare situation. Many attendees were moved by the specifics of this story – the hands on consequences of our healthcare crisis looked at from a novel point of view. And, now, I (L.T.) am blogging about this, and the story will go on. There are so many individual stories to be told – stories of individual people, and, it turns out, individual towns. Let’s uncover more of them and thereby involve more people in our reform movement.


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