Standing up proudly

By Emily Cain, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 13, 2011, at 7:03 p.m.

A Sept. 12 Op-Ed column on the BDN’s Opinion page by Republican state Sen. Debra Plowman (“Will the real House minority leader please stand up?”) personally criticized me for a radio address I gave last month on the Republican-pushed health care overhaul.

My address, which can be heard on the House Democrats’ website, noted the negative effects small businesses are already seeing from the new law rammed through by Republicans this year. It pointed to small businesses in Hancock, Washington and Aroostook counties which are already experiencing 60-70 percent increases in their health insurance premiums from the reckless law.

I cited an article from the Ellsworth American which highlighted cases where small businesses in rural Maine with fewer than five employees were seeing their insurance costs skyrocket. The trend is dangerous, especially in a state where 90 percent of our businesses have fewer than 20 employees.

In the last election Republicans said they were going to fight for rural Maine and small businesses when they took over in Augusta. But major portions of this bill were top priorities for big out-of-state insurance companies, and any potential positive impact of the law is focused on Southern Maine and people who are lucky enough to live near health care providers. Rural Maine and small businesses were forgotten and warnings from Democrats and experts were ignored.

The column takes me to task for criticizing the law while also praising bipartisan work done by the Legislature this year. I have proudly supported bipartisan compromise on critical issues like the budget and regulatory reform, sometimes to the dismay of certain members of my own party.

My Democratic caucus and I will continue to work across the aisle because Maine people expect it. They won’t stand for personal attacks and partisan gridlock, and neither will I.

I believe (and have been known to say) that the best work we do, we do together. But we did not pass the reckless health insurance law together. It is far from our best work, and Maine people deserve to understand why.

My Democratic colleagues have not been the party of “no” this year. Instead, we are proud to be the party of “not that, but this, and here’s why.” We constantly offer amendments, ask questions, and try to make our laws reflective of a balanced perspective.

Democrats strongly opposed the radical Republican insurance overhaul because there was no data to support claims that it would lower the cost of care when you are sick. In fact, the data available showed just the opposite. Plus, we didn’t think it was fair to add a tax on every insurance holder or force people to travel long distances for care.

House Democrats offered six amendments to the bill during debate after our efforts were stonewalled in the committee that first considered the bill. We never gave up on compromise, even when the debate got rough.

The column also said one solution to lowering the costs for small businesses is to add younger people to the small group policies. Younger people cost less because they are typically healthier, and offering young people employment opportunities in Maine is a good thing. But, by this logic, the new law may force employers to make hiring decisions based on age and health, rather than skill and potential.

The new law not only increases costs for Mainers in their 40s and older, it also puts them at a professional disadvantage and gives employers an impossible decision — replace experienced adult Mainers, or stop paying for insurance.

Instead of changing the system to work better for Maine businesses and consumers, the GOP’s new law demands that we do all the changing, in order to fit the system that big insurance wants.

If the law is so great, why waste time attacking me? Why not talk about its benefits? Instead, the column says the Republican majority will fix any problems that arise from the law.

Democrats and Republicans in Augusta have a track record of working together. However, sometimes, we have fundamental disagreements about policy and how it will impact our citizens. Whether it is health insurance, voting rights, child labor laws, or environmental protections, I will never sit back quietly and just watch these dangerous rollbacks happen.

As the Democratic leader, I am proud to “stand up” against policies that hurt Maine people. Maine people can count on me to always stand up for them in Augusta.

Emily Cain, D-Orono is her party’s leader in the House of Representatives.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/09/13/opinion/contributors/standing-up-proudly/ printed on September 20, 2014