Maine Policy Scholar Pringle Probes the Cost of Health Care
Maine Policy Scholar and political science major Alex Pringle elected to spend his senior year resolving an elusive public policy issue: how to provide low-income Mainers with financially feasible health-care coverage.
“Maine does a decent job with providing coverage. In fact, it’s among the top tier of states,” Pringle said. “Where we tend to fail is that the cost of coverage here is so high.”
Pringle considered economics, demographics and health-care coverage systems throughout the United States in an attempt to save money and expand coverage in Maine. After considering all the angles, he found a potentially applicable cost-saving program at work in Tennessee.
“Instead of offering expensive catastrophic coverage with high deductibles, Tennessee offers low-cost, low-deductible coverage with a cap of $25,000 per year,” he said. “In Tennessee, they recognize that 98 percent of hospital and outpatient services don’t cost much. The other two percent of services for catastrophic problems can exceed $100,000 in costs, but other safety nets like Medicare and Medicaid can catch people whose medical costs exceed their resources.”
Pringle said it's too early to tell if the new Tennessee program can sustain expanded coverage at lower costs, but he predicts the approach has merit for Maine.
“Lawmakers have always assumed people want comprehensive coverage, even at a high cost,” he said. “Tennessee flipped it around. They offer low-deductible coverage that provides an incentive for people to seek preventative care that will catch problems before they become catastrophic in terms of both health and cost.”
Pringle produced a lengthy report on his research for the Maine Community Foundation, sponsors of the Maine Policy Scholar Program, which forwarded his recommendations to Governor John Baldacci. For Pringle, who served as a member of the UMF Student Senate as well as president of both the UMF College Democrats and Political Science Club, the research project confirmed career plans that involve earning degrees in law and public policy, serving in the Maine legislature and ultimately running for national office.
“Having done the work makes me feel that I could have an intelligent conversation about this issue with anyone,” he said. “It makes me feel that I could run for state legislature right now.”