AUGUSTA, Maine — After debating consumer protection versus consumer rights, the Maine House on Wednesday rejected a bill to allow out-of-state health insurers to sell individual policies in Maine.
Supporters argued before the 82-63 vote that Maine consumers want and deserve the option of shopping out-of-state for more competitive prices for health coverage. Supporters said that with only two companies writing individual health policies in Maine, consumers face a virtual monopoly in a state where 140,000 residents lack any health coverage.
“All this bill is doing is offering people a choice,” said Rep. L. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls. “We have a monopolistic situation now” in the state.
The bill sought to allow regional states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — to sell individual policies in Maine, an option not available now. It faced long odds after a majority of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, which had reviewed the bill, called for its defeat.
Opponents noted that insurance is regulated by states, and argued that consumers would lose protections they now have in the event of disputes over coverage and other issues that could arise between the companies and insured.
“Not a single state in the country has legislation of this type that has passed,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, House chair of the insurance panel.
Rep. David Van Wie, D-New Gloucester, warned that passage could lead to “cherry-picking” by non-Maine companies that would insure the healthiest applicants while leaving the least-healthy for Maine-based insurers to cover, ultimately increasing costs for Maine consumers.
But others made impassioned pitches to allow consumers the option of choosing their insurers, just as they have the right to buy cars or appliances in other states.
“Let the buyer beware,” said Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham. “We’re denying our constituents that right to choose.”
Rep. Thomas Saviello, an independent from Wilton, said his own price comparisons show that a Maine consumer could save hundreds of dollars by buying a health policy in neighboring New Hampshire. He and others acknowledged that the bill won’t provide coverage overnight for all Mainers who need it, but it would give them another option.
“Is it a fix? I don’t think so,” said Saviello. “But it’s a start.”
The bill remains alive as it goes to the Senate for an initial vote.