One of Maine’s most overlooked news stories in 2013 was the incredible thing that happened to our health insurance market. After several quarters of steady improvement, numbers released by the state’s Bureau of Insurance showed enormous improvements in the premiums for health insurance offered by employers.
The figures reflect the 2011 passage of a health reform law in Maine that allowed insurers to charge young, healthy people less; allowed consumers to buy across state lines; allowed small groups to band together for better coverage; and more. The law, PL 90, was passed by Republican lawmakers who then held the majority in the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage. Some Democratic senators signed on as well.
The latest figures on PL 90 from the Bureau of Insurance are astonishing. About eight times as many small groups are seeing rate decreases as compared to before the law’s enactment. Also, those seeing rate increases are seeing much smaller ones. Before PL 90, almost 40 percent of small groups were seeing their premiums rise by more than 20 percent upon renewal. Now, about one-quarter as many are seeing similar premium spikes.
The good news has reached the individual market as well, enabling Anthem to offer $2,000 deductible plans to those 30-34 years old for $254 per month instead of $691. Adult couples in their forties with children are paying about half what they were. A 25-29 year old can get a high deductible plan for $116 per month instead of $333.
However, these are the last pure numbers we’ll ever see on the landmark health insurance reform law passed by Maine Republicans in 2011. Beginning on New Year’s Day 2014, Obamacare kicked in with full force.
Businesses know that the last quarter of 2013 was their last chance to avoid the Obamacare train wreck. That’s why we saw a 35 percent spike in the number of small groups renewing plans before the New Year.
Maine Democrats have centered their health care policy on Obamacare’s medical welfare expansion. For a lesson on why this is misguided, one need only look to past expansions of Medicaid in our state that left us with massive debts, budget shortfalls, and no improvements to physical health outcomes or reduced emergency room usage.
This latest expansion proposal would cover not Maine’s neediest elderly, disabled, or child patients, but about 70,000 able-bodied adults for whom Medicaid was never designed in the first place. It would cost the state $75 million per year and climbing over the long term. That money would have to either be raised in new taxes or slashed out of the budget from education, first responders, infrastructure and other important priorities.
Besides, with all of the broken promises swirling around President Obama’s government health care takeover, how could we trust Congress to pay for its share of the cost of expansion, especially when the feds are sitting on a $17 trillion debt?
Maine people are beginning to see through the welfare expansion proposal, too, as indicated by a recent public poll.
Many of the 70,000 people proposed to be put on medical welfare with almost no co-pays and no deductibles can instead find private insurance for as little as $4 per week on the Obamacare exchange. Why should Maine state government be roped into expanding welfare if the feds are willing to subsidize private insurance without the state budget being put at risk?
Maine Republicans have a more comprehensive vision for reforming our broken health care system. Reforms like PL 90 actually go to work reducing the cost of plans on the private health insurance market — where about three quarters of people with insurance get their coverage. We’re interested in making health care more affordable for everybody, especially the young people whom Maine desperately needs.
Republicans are also committed to preserving the Medicaid safety net for the truly needy people it was designed to help because no child or severely disabled person should ever go without coverage.
Federal welfare dollars cannot continue to be the end-all, be-all of Maine’s health care policy. Choice, responsibility and efficiency must replace dependency, waste and deficits if we are to build upon the success of PL 90 and continue to craft real solutions for Maine’s health care future.
Rep. Kenneth Fredette of Newport is the Republican Leader in the Maine House of Representatives.