Final votes on Maine health insurance bill set

Posted May 11, 2011, at 8:36 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2011, at 2:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Final votes in the Maine House and Senate are expected on a health care overhaul bill.

The House is to meet mid-afternoon Thursday, and the Senate is due to return Thursday evening.

The Maine Senate on Wednesday night gave approval to a Republican-backed health care overhaul bill, despite Democratic pleas for more time to study and refine it.

“The people of Maine are depending on us to do something,” Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said during a debate that lasted nearly four hours. The 24-10 vote was largely along party lines, as it was in previous House votes in favor of the bill. The bill now goes back to the House, where lawmakers will consider two amendments added in the Senate that helped Republicans pick up a few additional Democratic votes.

Republicans argued that the bill makes changes that will make insurance affordable to more of the 130,000 Maine residents who lack coverage.

“Our system is broken … unaffordable,” said Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro.

But Democrats said the bill was being rushed through too fast by the majority party and would raise rates for older residents and those living in rural areas.

“Never has anything been pushed or ramrodded through like this” in his three decades in the Legislature, said Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, adding that it would “undo” many protections for the uninsured and underinsured that Democrats passed when they were in control.

Republicans say the bill promotes increased competition and affordability. It allows Maine residents to shop for insurance out of state starting in 2014 and bars insurers from denying insurance to anyone. Supporters say increased competition and affordability in coverage options allowed in the bill will enable young and healthy people to buy policies, thereby expanding the pool and lowering costs across the board.

The Senate’s lone independent, Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth, said he “struggled” with some of the bill’s provisions before becoming convinced they would not bring on unintended consequences.

“I believe this bill works … because it dovetails with some of the things being done at the national level,” said Woodbury, referring to the Affordable Care Act that’s being phased in. “I’m optimistic it will be very effective.”

Senators voted to adopt an amendment addressing some provisions in the bill that Democrats found most objectionable.

The amendment prevents insurers from financially penalizing patients for going to hospitals closer to where they live rather than to distant hospitals that may provide treatment for less money, an issue of interest especially in rural areas. Another change is aimed at reducing the disparity in insurance costs between urban and rural areas.

Bangor Daily News reporter Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

 

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