For many Maine families and small businesses in rural parts of the state, the cost of going to the doctor or filling a prescription has gotten more expensive in the past year. Part of the reason for the increase is a new law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which deregulated the insurance market and eliminated critical consumer protections.
Small businesses and individuals across the state, especially in rural areas, have seen their health insurance skyrocket. Individuals in rural Maine, those over the age of 50 and small companies with a handful of employees have been hit the hardest.
Econo Electric in Skowhegan experienced sticker shock when it was quoted a 42-percent increase by its Anthem broker for less comprehensive coverage, according to news reports on the rate hikes. The company’s per-person costs rose by hundreds of dollars per month, and its deductible doubled.
In Bath, Briggs Advertising saw a 67-percent increase in their rates. A flagship store in Ellsworth, The Grasshopper Shop, saw its premiums rise from $900 per month to more than $1,600 per month in the aftermath of the law. The stories of skyrocketing rates are cropping up across the state, and they are making it harder for small businesses to turn a profit and for families to pay the bills. The law allows insurance companies to charge significantly higher rates based on where you live, on your age or on what kind of job you have. In fact, insurance companies can hike rates five times as much (or 500 percent more) based on your age.
So, if you are a 55-year-old retiree who no longer has company health insurance and isn’t eligible yet for Medicare, you are really feeling the squeeze. While younger, healthier Mainers in urban areas like Portland and Scarborough are getting less expensive health insurance, older Mainers, small businesses and most everyone in rural areas are paying the price. This is exactly what the for-profit insurance industry wants; to avoid covering those who may be older and more likely to get sick. This is a race to the bottom in health care.
Younger Mainers may be paying less, but it’s not for quality care. The law has led to higher out-of-pocket costs for less care. Some policies won’t even cover maternity costs. What is the point of buying insurance if it isn’t there for you when you need it most?
Worse, the Republican law lets insurers hike rates up to 10 percent without a requiring prior review or approval from regulators. Since the law passed, insurance companies have hiked rates — with no prior approval — to increase their profits by nearly $1.8 million, according to the Maine Bureau of Insurance.
Plus, that doesn’t include the total tax of more than $22 million the new rate hike law imposes on all insurance holders. The tax helps pay for a reinsurance pool for older and sicker Maine people who are considered higher risk.
This law was passed with no input from Democrats or feedback from experts. It was written in a backroom with insurance lobbyists. Our healthcare crisis is too big to be solved by one party alone. We should be working across the aisle to find solutions and listening to all experts at the table. I hope we can return to the Augusta next year and work together to fix the devastating impact this new law has had on so many families and businesses in our state.
Adam Goode is in his second term in the State Legislature, representing House District 15 as a Democrat. He serves on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.