Get behind health care

Posted Dec. 01, 2010, at 10:04 p.m.

As the final votes are certified, many advocates in Maine will be greeted with a new landscape in Augusta — a Republican-controlled state Legislature eager to approve the agenda sought by the first Republican governor in 16 years. We congratulate the new legislators and governor on their victories. We look forward to working together, because there is much work to be done, particularly regarding health care and health insurance reform.

As a mission-driven, nonprofit and nonpartisan research and policy advocacy group, Consumers for Affordable Health Care works to protect the rights of health care consumers in Maine. We are committed to helping all Maine people obtain quality, affordable health care regardless of whether they are Republican, Democrat, Green or independent. To that end, we look forward to working with the incoming administration and the new House and Senate leadership to ensure that we continue to broaden the population that has access to affordable coverage, without losing any of the protections consumers now enjoy.

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March. The law prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to children and adults who have medical conditions (called pre-existing conditions). The law also gives small businesses tax credits to make covering their workers more affordable.

It helps seniors on Medicare pay for their prescription drugs when their Part D coverage runs out and allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26. These are just a few examples of the many important protections in the law. Polls show that when these specific benefits are explained, the public largely supports the new law.

Recent polls also show jobs and the economy as the top issues of concern to the voter, making tea party Republicans’ efforts to repeal the health care law seem out of touch and ill-conceived. In fact, the more people hear what benefits are in the law, the more likely they are to support it.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health care reform ranked only fourth among issues tea party voters deemed important, with only 10 percent saying it was their most important issue. Furthermore, only 11 percent said a candidate’s position on health care would be the deciding factor in how a tea party voter would cast their ballot.

We applaud the incoming governor’s commitment to transparency and note that Maine has made significant progress in determining how best to implement the new law in an open, transparent and bipartisan process with meetings initiated by the Baldacci administration and the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee.

Maine has much ground to lose if the newly elected leadership were simply to scrap the months of work put in by these panels. In particular, these bodies have studied and analyzed the creation of the state exchange, a new marketplace to provide consumers and small businesses with affordable health insurance choices. Exchange development is perhaps most vital to the affordability piece of the law. It is up to the new governor to decide whether Maine or the federal government will design and operate the exchange.

We have also heard much talk regarding the Dirigo Health Agency, or DHA, during this election, and unfortunately that talk has continued postelection. It appears that opponents of DHA are willing to play partisan politics with the agency instead of looking for areas to improve it.

The facts speak for themselves — DHA insures more than 14,000 Mainers who would likely not have access to insurance, they have insured another 38,000 who would have lacked health insurance, and recently added subsidized coverage for small and large businesses with part-time workers as well as for uninsured people with pre-existing conditions. The fact that the agency did not increase its rates for individuals and limited its small-group rate increase to 2 percent is a clear indication that it is an affordable option to a less than equal, competitive playing field in Maine.

The governor-elect has said that he will “put people before politics,” but that statement must not be shared by his transition team, whose leader, Tarren Bragdon, said that “Dirigo will be Diri-gone.” It is comments like these that are counterproductive and run contrary to Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s promise to put people first. To the 14,000 Mainers insured by Dirigo programs, it must sound as if Mr. Bragdon is putting politics before the people.

While the landscape and the members may have changed, the problems facing small businesses, working families and single parents remain the same. How do we increase access to affordable, quality health care for the greatest number of Mainers? That is a difficult question we will continue to work on answering, but it will take the help of Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike to come up with pragmatic and effective solutions.

The time for political slogans and partisan bickering is over; now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Joseph P. Ditré is executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care.

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