Bad health care deal for rural Maine

By Adam Goode,
Posted May 06, 2011, at 8:56 p.m.

On Thursday, Republican lawmakers voted along party lines to pass a complex and reckless proposal to overhaul Maine’s health insurance protections. While much about the bill’s impact is still unknown, what is certain is that this proposal will drive up costs for the sickest Maine people, those living in rural areas, and anyone over age 48.

During the floor debate in the House many questions went unanswered when posed to the bill’s authors, leaving many to believe that they simply did not have them. We are not even sure if many of the Republicans who voted for the bill read the 45-page proposal that was made public only late the night before the vote.

The Maine Bureau of Insurance provided analysis in 2007 of a similar but less drastic plan, showing increases of at least 19 percent to those in the north and at least 22 percent to people living Down East. Maine people who want to keep their insurance will likely see price increases of at least 170 percent.

Because this plan was rammed through, there is no new analysis on this much more radical bill — the only thing we know for sure is that the impact will be much worse.

The Republican health care plan is a bad deal for rural Maine.

In addition to making health care more expensive for rural Mainers, the package also repeals rules that limit how far an insurance company can ask policyholders to travel to get care in network. Someone in Houlton could be forced to drive to Portland or Boston to get cancer treatments — or wherever the insurance company thinks the care will be cheapest.

The overhaul will allow insurance companies to charge someone five times more than their neighbor based on age alone. Even more troubling to Democrats, there is no limit on the rate charged depending on where patients live or what they do for work.

The bill also creates a segregated reinsurance pool that will be paid for with a per-person tax on everyone’s insurance policies of $4 a month, or $48 per year. People with chronic diseases or in need of ongoing care will be forced into these pools, and there is no way to know if there will be enough money to fund it.

If it turns out that there isn’t enough to fund the pools, Maine will have to do what other states have done and limit benefits to the sickest people or raise the tax. Some states have had to abandon their high-risk pools because of cost. Where do the sickest people go after that?

The bill modeled its high-risk pool after Idaho’s, which has a cap of $1 million per person. That sounds like a lot of money until you become very ill and rack up six-figure hospital bills in a short period of time.

Working to lower the cost of health care for Maine people, while increasing quality and accessibility, is and should be a top priority. How to get there is what fuels the health insurance debate. The plan that was rushed through the Legislature will not do that. It’s a gift to the insurance industry that will jack up rates and deny care.

We believe proposals focused on bringing a state-based insurance exchange is the best way to lower costs and get Maine people better care. We believe policy should focus on reducing health care costs without rolling back quality and access.

We don’t want to pick winners and losers. We don’t want to lower the costs for some at the expense of others. We are one state. We should not pit north against south; healthy versus sick; old versus young. This allows the insurance companies to shift the cost of health care from one group of Maine people to another.

Insurance companies — both out-of-state and those currently in Maine — will benefit the most, as policyholders will see their premiums skyrocket.

I urge you to contact Republicans in the Senate and tell them to vote “no” on LD 1333.

Adam Goode, D-Bangor, serves on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/05/06/opinion/bad-health-care-deal-for-rural-maine/ printed on August 1, 2014