May 25, 2018
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Ousted state Rep. Willette vindicated by latest numbers on Maine health insurance reform

Contributed photo | BDN
Contributed photo | BDN
Rep. Rick Long, R-Sherman
By Rick Long, Special to the BDN

Sometimes the truth doesn’t come out until it’s too late. That’s what happened to Mike Willette of Presque Isle, the former state representative who had more money spent on attack ads against him than any other Maine House candidate last year.

Despite strong polling numbers earlier on in the fall, a barrage of negative mailers and radio ads painted him to be a monster who voted for PL 90, a health insurance reform law passed by Republican majority lawmakers in 2011 and signed by Gov. Paul LePage — a reform that Democrats simplistically dubbed, “the rate hike law.”

They pointed to some small businesses in The County and throughout rural and northern Maine that saw dramatic rate increases in the wake of the new law’s passage. They didn’t tell the story of how many saw similar rate hikes before the bill, or that only about 20 percent of the new law was initially implemented. They didn’t talk about numbers that were already showing positive trends in the number of businesses seeing their rates go down and the declining number that were seeing especially high increases.

Willette’s opponent, Bob Saucier, campaigned against Willette’s vote, saying he would have done it differently. Willette ended up losing to Saucier by just 112 votes out of the nearly 4,000 cast.

With the Republican health insurance law now fully in effect and the latest numbers out, however, it’s unlikely that freshman state Rep. Saucier would vote to repeal the law that he campaigned against and that passed thanks in part to Willette’s vote.

The Maine Bureau of Insurance recently released numbers that show the premium changes for small groups renewing their health plans in the last quarter of 2013. These are the last numbers we’ll see on PL 90 before ObamaCare starts to kick in on Jan. 1, 2014. Exactly one-third — 33.3 percent — of all small groups in Aroostook, Piscataquis, and Penobscot Counties saw their rates go down. That’s almost 10 times as many as before PL 90, when only 3.9 percent of small groups were seeing rate decreases.

What’s even more impressive, and more to the point of the Democrats’ false attacks, is the fact that today, only 10.9 percent of small groups in those three counties are seeing rate hikes of 20 percent or higher. That’s down from nearly half, or 46.6 percent, of all small groups in those counties prior to PL 90.

So, there are 10 times as many groups saving money and only one-quarter as many seeing large rate increases. The verdict is very similar statewide. Yet northern Maine is actually leading the pack, with by far the greatest number of small groups seeing their rates go down.

The saga of Mike Willette stands as one example of why good policy often doesn’t get implemented, why good reforms often don’t see the light of day. Many who don’t have Mike’s political courage see reform as too risky. They’re afraid of falling victim to exactly what happened to Mike.

Liberal politicians would much rather see Maine write a blank check to a dysfunctional Congress for Obamacare and subject us to President Obama’s broken promises than make private health insurance more affordable. They’re pushing to expand welfare under the crumbling government health care takeover at a $75 million-per-year cost to Maine taxpayers who are already squeezed enough. Our state’s Medicaid program gives us deficits every year and even ran up a half-billion-dollar welfare debt that we only recently paid off over Democrats’ objections.

There is no free lunch; there are no free Obamacare dollars. We must reform our broken health insurance system to drive costs down instead of doling out more welfare. Republicans have solutions to our national health insurance crisis. We must allow the states more flexibility to reform their own markets, just like we did here in Maine. Every state is different. Thanks to the reform we passed here in Maine, a private health policy for a young adult costs as much as a cell phone bill instead of a car payment.

The numbers don’t lie, but unfortunately, negative attack ads often do. We would have a far healthier democracy if we had a longer memory and more politicians like Mike Willette.

Rep. Rick Long, R-Sherman, is a logger, volunteer firefighter, and second-term state representative in the Maine Legislature.

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