PRC SPEAKS OUT

Plenty of concerns, questions around health care reform in Maine

Posted June 29, 2012, at 9:44 a.m.
Last modified June 29, 2012, at 10:02 a.m.
Chris Hall, senior vice president for government relations, Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, senior vice president for government relations, Portland Regional Chamber

Editor’s note: This report is compiled biweekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.

PRC speaks out

Yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) sparked plenty of local coverage and reaction from a variety of sources, including businesses ( BDN), politicians ( PPH, BDN, KJ), commentators ( Matt Gagnon, Ethan Strimling, Amy Fried, Allumbaugh, Ditre & Coburn on MPBN, MaineWatch) and editors ( BDN, PPH, BDN). The PPH also collected reaction from a variety of Maine folks involved in health care policy, and provided a survey of reaction to the ruling ( PPH).

If you’re thinking about what the ruling means for Maine, here are three things to consider:

The Republican Governors’ Association reacted by urging states to ignore the ACA until the November elections. In Maine Republican leaders decided earlier this year to postpone the creation of a state health care insurance exchange ( BDN), something that will need to move forward unless Republicans control the White House and Congress next year and repeal the ACA. The state exchange may become a central part of future health care insurance purchases for all of us, and the pending details of its design in Maine will matter.

Maine’s new state budget planned on reductions in MaineCare eligibility that cut tens of thousands of Mainers from the program. It is unclear whether federal approval of those cuts is still needed ( BDN, MPBN). If not, many of these newly uninsured Mainers will want to move on to ACA-subsidized insurance coverage.

Maine’s health care industry faces new challenges, including reduced reimbursements, as well as new opportunities ( MPBN). Maine individuals and small businesses employing 50 or more people facing stiff tax penalties for the failure to purchase health insurance. The total cost impact of the ACA on providers, employees and employers is coming into sharper focus. Who pays, and how much, are now more urgent questions than ever.

Two years ago the Maine State Chamber and the Maine Development Foundation surveyed 1,100 Maine employers – their #1 concern was the high cost of health insurance and health care.

Today those concerns remain, despite yesterday’s ruling. Let’s hope it won’t take two more years to find the solutions we need to lower health insurance and health care costs for us all.

State Policy round-up: House Speaker Bob Nutting wrote two op-ed’s about the accomplishments of the 125th Legislature ( PPH, BDN) – both praised the new Republican-led direction at the State House. Mike Cuzzi & Dan Demeritt have a new column in the PPH – they looked at how partisan legislative actions may cause each party trouble in the November elections. Elsewhere:

Bonds: The governor’s decision to delay current and pending bond projects continued to generate strong debate. MPBN provided coverage, Maine DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt said the decision would not impact 2012 DOT projects, Jody Harris commented on the negative economic impacts of the decision, as did the PPH editors, while the governor’s spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett responded to the PPH editors, and Alan Caron replied to Bennett.

Budget: First the good news – state revenues are just a bit higher than expected as we head to the 6/30/12 fiscal year end ( BDN), and the state pension system will be a bit less costly than expected in the next budget ( BDN). Now the bad news – the DHHS budget is short again, this time by about $12.5 million dollars ( PPH, MPBN). The June edition of Fiscal News is available.

Economic Development: Economic development policies, and outcomes, were also the subject of pointed debate over the last two weeks. Sen. Justin Alfond criticized the governor, drawing a strong response from Jason Savage. Rep.’s Emily Cain and Michael Carey, and David Farmer, all repeated many of the points made by Alfond, while the BDN editors made a list of what they think we need to focus on to grow. Maine Technology Institute Director Betsy Biemann resigned unexpectedly ( BDN), drawing comment from the PPH editors. The LSJ and BDN editors both commented on the economic impact of the arts, and George Smith shared his concerns over Maine’s rural economy. Some good news – personal income in Maine increased at the start of this year ( PPH).

Education: The Maine Charter School Commission (charged with adopting rules governing charters, and evaluating applications to open charter schools) was told by the governor to hurry up its work ( BDN), but the panel refused ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).

High school administrative consolidation, pushed hard by the Baldacci administration, is falling apart in many districts around the state ( PPH). Maine’s high school graduation rate rose a bit in some places, but fell in others ( PPH). A state house study of the state’s school funding formula is underway ( BDN). The Maine Community College system held the line on tuition ( PPH, BDN).

Comment on various aspects of education policy came from Ron Nykiel, James Smith, Laurie Lachance and Wendy Gaal. UMaine and SMCC are working to produce more engineers ( MPBN).

Energy: The proposed transport of tar sands oil through Maine drew opposition ( BDN, MPBN). That proposal is one of several possible energy transport choices involving Maine ( PPH).

Environment: The pending merger of the state’s Departments of Agriculture and Conservation drew public comment ( BDN, MPBN). The merger is set to be completed at the end of August ( BDN).

Health Care: In the run-up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the federal health care reform law, Rep.’s Sharon Treat and Linda Sanborn wrote about the federal Affordable Care Act and the future of health care reform in Maine. Wendy Wolf did too.

Labor: Federal workforce training cuts will impact out-of-work Mainers ( BDN). In a thoughtful op-ed John Dorrer outlined a detailed set of recommendations designed to put tens of thousands of Maine people back to work.

Regulatory Reform: DECD Commissioner George Gervais wrote in response to Bill Nemitz about the ‘Certified Business Friendly’ program.

Tax: George Smith wrote to reject a proposed federal sales tax on internet sales – Curtis Pickard responded with a contrary view.

Transportation: The Maine Turnpike Authority’s proposed rate hike drew comment at several public hearings ( PPH, PPH, LSJ) – it also drew comment from Governor LePage, Portland Mayor Mike Brennan, the BDN editors, the LSJ editors and a broader discussion of paying for transit from the PPH editors. Bob Daigle wrote about how investors in the proposed east-west highway must bear the burden of proof, while Sen. Doug Thomas urged support for the project.

Other: Crime rates in Maine increased 5.4 percent last year – unwelcome news attributed to increasing drug problems ( KJ, MPBN).

Around the Region: A deal to shut the MERC facility in Biddeford is in place ( PPH). Regional population growth may result in reduced federal mass transit subsidies ( PDS) – Congresswoman Pingree is seeking a waiver ( PDS). Meanwhile the region faces transit funding cuts unless the pending federal transportation bill passes ( BDN).

Portland and the region continue to experience growing homelessness ( Forecaster). Changes to General Assistance budgets were on the agenda for the South Portland ( Current) and Westbrook ( Current) Councils – the Forecaster looked at the regional impact of policy changes.

Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the Council has received suggested rules for short-term home rentals from the Planning Board ( Forecaster).

In South Portland the City’s final long-term planning forum was well attended ( Forecaster). Knightville parking issues continued to raise business objections ( PPH, Forecaster). Thanks to a grant pre-school offerings will expand ( Forecaster).

Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the Council is considering two mixed use development proposals ( Forecaster).

In Falmouth troubles arose in connection with the use of the town’s email list ( Forecaster), triggering discussions of changes to the state Freedom of Access to Information law ( Forecaster).

Portland: The Council is working through a proposal to bring food trucks to the city ( text of proposed regulation) – additional Council meetings are expected ( PPH). Elsewhere:

  1. The Council voted to support the Williston-West project, despite some local objections to the plan ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster);
  1. The Council has decided to take a look at banning polystyrene containers in the city ( PPH, PDS), and possibly plastic bags as well ( PDS);
  1. The Portland International Jetport has met a very high environmental and energy standard ( BDN);
  1. In city-related education news: The city received a new $50,000 study grant for early childhood education ( BDN); overcrowding at Ocean Avenue Elementary may trigger redistricting ( PPH); Deering High Principal Ira Waltz was in line to be named acting Portland Superintendent ( PDS, BDN, Forecaster); Mayor Brennan spoke out against the Baxter Academy charter school ( BDN) – Jonathan David Farley responded, while the academy received a loan for operations ( PPH); and UNE won approval to build a $14.5 million dollar dental school in the city ( BDN, PPH, PPH);
  1. A study has been ok’d to look at the possibility of making State and High Streets into 2-way traffic streets ( PPH) – the PPH editors had a different idea;
  1. The PPH’s Tom Bell wrote about marine-related development in the city’s central waterfront zone – or lack thereof; and
  1. For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.

Scarborough: Plans for the Wentworth School are moving ahead ( Current). The Town is contributing to a study that may lead to a new Turnpike exit to ease Route 1 congestion ( PPH).

Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook changes have been made to the city’s vacant Economic Development Director position – the city also announced that it will seek “Business Friendly” certification from the state (Current). Changes to sprinkler regulations continued to come forward (Current).

In Gorham you can use the town’s website to stay current on local news and events.

Want to speak out? It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked – just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!

Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Chris Hall is senior vice president for government relations at the Portland Regional Chamber. He can be contacted at chall@portlandregion.com. Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.

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