June 22, 2018
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Maine’s insurance reform is working — now repeal it?

By Jonathan McKane, Special to the BDN

Maine’s health insurance reform law, or PL 90, enacted in the last legislative session, is working. For the first time in decades there is positive news for Maine’s health insurance consumers — yet some want to gut the bill and render it impotent.

After a decade of double-digit increases, the recent rate increase by Anthem for the individual health insurance market was only 1.7 percent — the lowest increase ever and despite the fact that medical cost inflation is around 8 percent. New products are also available for some individuals at even lower rates.

According to the most recent data from the Maine Bureau of Insurance, Maine’s group insurance market is also improving. In the fourth quarter of 2012, 17 percent of Maine businesses saw lower rates. Also, more businesses are seeing smaller increases. At first, these positive statistics were mostly found on the southern half of the state but the most recent data show that all sections of Maine are beginning to see the benefits.
These positive new trends are not because of any “bold” experiments or dramatic mandates but are the result of common sense reforms that have been successful all around the country. With the advent of PL 90, Maine health insurance markets are moving back toward normalcy.

Democrats, however, who campaigned vigorously against the new insurance reform law last fall, have made overhaul of the law one of their legislative priorities and have submitted a number of bills to effectively hobble PL 90 despite its successes.

They’ve nicknamed PL 90 the “rate hike bill” even though rates are stabilizing and have indeed dropped for many. They’ve said insurance companies can now raise rates without approval, which is false — all rates will continue to need approval and all with the same standards as before.
They issued phony reports that cherry-picked data and ignored positive new trends (see Consumers for Affordable Health Care). They have said there are fewer product choices even though the opposite is true. And they have completely ignored the many negative effects of ObamaCare.

Democrats and other “single payer” advocates don’t want to see the health care/health insurance dilemma solved through the free market. They believe the only real solution is through stricter regulations, greater subsidies and, ultimately, more government control — all of which have been tried and tried again over the past two decades and all of which failed.

According to the insurance bureau, Mainers have endured average yearly rate increases of 19 percent in the small group market for the 10 years preceding PL 90. For individuals, the average increase was 13 percent.

Many saw increases much higher than that.

These crushing rate hikes were the result of an onslaught of left-wing health care and health insurance experiments over the past two decades.

These experiments included community rating, which forced insurers to charge everyone nearly the same amount, regardless of risk; mandates that forced coverage for treatments and procedures people couldn’t afford and didn’t want; a “health care bill of rights,” which put a variety of unnecessary and burdensome regulations on insurers; and the Dirigo Health program which cost hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and failed to reach any of its goals.

The biggest goals that were promised were to insure the 130,000 uninsured in Maine, of which only about 10,000 became insured through the private market. The MaineCare expansion brought that number up some but was nowhere near what was promised. And to bring competition to Maine’s insurance market and lower prices because of it.

Clearly these experiments failed and insurance premiums in Maine became some of the highest in the country. Many Mainers dropped private coverage while our medical welfare population surged. Insurance companies left the state creating a monopoly for the few of the biggest players remaining.

PL 90 addresses the problems with Maine’s insurance market by allowing more competition among insurers and more choice for consumers while keeping important consumer protections.

The high cost of health care and health insurance in Maine is a problem that is not going to be solved overnight — it was decades in the making. We also now have the additional problems and costs associated with the biggest government health care experiment of all, ObamaCare.

Still, Maine is moving in the right direction with PL 90. Although it is not fully implemented, progress is evident already. With insurance premiums predicted to rise dramatically due to ObamaCare, now is not the time to gut PL 90 and go back to the days of Maine having the most over-regulated and expensive insurance market in the country.

Jonathan McKane, a Republican from Newcastle, served three terms on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee.

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