Anthem as a Reminder

Posted Feb. 14, 2010, at 6:35 p.m.

We hardly needed it, but the request for a 23 percent increase by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine is one more bit of evidence that health care costs are rising at an unacceptable rate. The Maine Bureau of Insurance will begin hearings on the rate increase request later this month. This surge in price is a powerful argument in favor of work on health care reform legislation, despite the changed political environment.

With the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which gave Republicans 41 votes in the Senate, Democrats seem to have surrendered to the inevitability of a filibuster. Americans facing 23 percent increases in their health insurance premiums deserve better.

Fortunately, both of Maine’s Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have said they remain committed to some form of health care reform, even though both voted against the Senate bill. There was a lot to object to in that bill.

Sen. Snowe opposed a new employer mandate, the so-called Class Act for optional long-term insurance, and a $90 billion increase in Medicare payroll taxes. She also demanded answers to her questions as to how the new law would affect individuals with insurance. Congress must work to “reverse the trend of spiraling health care costs” that threaten a present one in four Americans with inadequate coverage or none at all and millions more in the future, she said.

Sen. Collins voted against the Senate bill saying it “will actually increase health care costs, impose billions in new taxes, fees, and penalties, and hurt our seniors, health care providers, and small businesses.” She stressed that the bill “does not do enough to rein in the cost of health care and to pro-vide consumers with more affordable choices.”

As congressional leaders debate how to move forward, crafting a less ambitious bill that encapsulates those areas where most lawmakers from both parties agree — insurance reforms such as not allowing companies to deny insurance to those with pre-existing conditions, for example — is a prom-ising option.

Doing nothing, as Sen. Snowe has long said, is not an option.

A survey released this week shows that one in 10 Mainers lacks health insurance. Worse, one in five worry that they will lose coverage or be unable to afford it.

Yes, the political landscape has changed, but the urgent need for health care reform has not. That is why lawmakers must set aside their differences and get back to work on this pressing problem.

What is certain is that without reform, continued cost escalation is a certainty. That should be unacceptable to everyone.

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