Health Care Transparency

Posted April 16, 2009, at 8:08 p.m.

People can readily access far more information about cars to help them decide which one to buy than they can about health insurance. Several bills currently under consideration in the Legislature aim to change this. Requiring the Internet posting of details on health insurance policies and more frequent reviews by the Maine Bureau of Insurance, as two of the bills would do, are small steps in bringing down health care costs.

A more sweeping bill, LD 1365, would create a single-payer health care system for the state. Because it would pay for health insurance through a 7.5 percent payroll tax — which for most businesses would still be a reduction in their health care expenses — this legislation has little chance of passage. It is important, however, as a means of furthering the discussion of the large burden that health care places on individuals and employers and that new ways to pay for medical coverage must be developed.

Lawmakers have sent a message to Washington supporting work on a single-payer system through a recently passed resolve. While Maine should not accept the status quo, this is a situation best fixed at the national level, which President Obama has pledged to do. His proposal to set aside $634 billion to expand health insurance coverage faces stiff opposition.

In Maine, Rep. Sharon Treat, long an advocate for health care reform, has sponsored three bills aimed at increasing transparency in the health insurance market and to reduce costs. The Committee on Insurance and Financial Services is scheduled to hold a work session Friday on these bills and several that change the funding mechanism for Dirigo Health.

One bill, LD 323, would require insurance companies to post policies online so consumers could compare and better understand what is covered and what is not. This is helpful, but translating the insurance lingo into readily understandable language would be even better.

Another bill sponsored by Rep. Treat, D-Hallowell, would require that no more than 15 percent of the amount collected in premiums go to administrative costs and profit. The aim is to devote more premium money to patient care. Federal government insurance programs spend between 95 percent and 98 percent of their revenues on medical care.

“These bills … will give us the tools we need to help make sure our insurance marketplace is competitive and on the up-and-up, and that insurance premiums are kept as low as possible while maintaining the viability of the industry,” Rep. Treat said.

These bills offer Maine an opportunity to make health insurance more patient-friendly while pushing for more sweeping changes at the federal level.

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