EDITORIALS

Health care bill a costly win

Maine Gov. Paul LePage holds up the health insurance overhaul bill that he just signed at a State House signing ceremony in Augusta, Maine on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. LePage is surrounded by fellow Republicans, at left is House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, and Senate President Kevin Raye (center), R-Perry.
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Maine Gov. Paul LePage holds up the health insurance overhaul bill that he just signed at a State House signing ceremony in Augusta, Maine on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. LePage is surrounded by fellow Republicans, at left is House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, and Senate President Kevin Raye (center), R-Perry.
Posted May 18, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.
Last modified May 19, 2011, at 10:39 a.m.

Even before Gov. Paul LePage had signed a rushed health insurance reform bill into law, opponents of the measure were talking about a people’s veto. People’s vetoes should be reserved for emergencies; proponents of repealing the law have to cross a high hurdle to prove this is the time for such a move.

The law, LD 1333, is an attempt to bring young people into Maine’s insurance market to lower costs, which is needed. It would do this by raising costs for older, sicker people, especially those who live in rural areas. There was little discussion in the Legislature of whether this reflects Maine’s values or priorities, which is one of the many shortcomings the law’s proponents will have to address if the bill doesn’t accomplish what they promised.

To lower costs for young, healthy Mainers — many of whom now go without insurance — the higher-cost policyholders will be put in a special pool and we’ll all pay to defray the costs of their insurance. A monthly tax of at least $4 will be assessed on all other policyholders to help cover the cost of those in the high-risk pool. This shifts the risk of insuring these people from insurance companies to thousands of Maine residents.

Republicans long decried the “Dirigo tax,” an assessment on health claims used to subsidize insurance for those who didn’t have it and other reforms in the state’s Dirigo Health program. The assessment replaced a tax on beverages, which was repealed through a people’s veto in 2008.

Maine, like the United States, functions as a representative democracy — we elect people to represent us and our interests in the State House and Congress. If we disagree with what our elected representatives do on our behalf, we should vote against them when they seek re-election. Undoing legislative action through referendums and people’s vetoes is costly and largely benefits those interests that pay for the campaigns, not the general public.

Maine residents deserve better than constant ballot battles over issues that are too complex to be decided based on TV commercials and campaign fliers. To wage such a battle, there must be compelling evidence that the changes brought by LD 1333 will harm Mainers in ways the public has yet to grasp — and won’t tolerate.

Maine residents also deserve a Legislature that is open to debate and review of its proposals. The way the Republicans handled LD 1333 — replacing the original four-page bill with a 24-page amendment at the public hearing, not having the Bureau of Insurance analyze the proposal to ensure it would work as intended, claiming the bill was fine but changing it repeatedly, refusing to consider Democratic amendments — is a lesson in how not to lead. The House chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Pat Flood, was so offended by the process that he resigned his post on Friday. The Winthrop Republican was persuaded to return on Monday, but apologized for how events around the bill played out.

“We cannot afford to have five members of our committee feeling distrustful, disrespected and feeling less than equal — all sentiments they expressed late Thursday evening as we rushed through an unusual procedural vote,” Rep. Flood told reporters Monday. “I regret that. I was part of that. Those kind of actions need to stop.”

That is the standard that must guide the remainder of the legislative session.

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