Changes in Dirigo Health

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We may not turn your jeers to cheers (editorial, Feb. 27), but your readers need to know of some important changes in Dirigo Health.

Last year the Legislature changed how Dirigo is financed, ending years of controversy. As a result, DirigoChoice, which is now closed to all individuals, will re-open to them in August. That’s especially good news to the thousands of people on the program’s waiting list.

We recently won a competition securing $8.5 million a year in federal funding for up to five years. With those funds, Dirigo is restructuring. In April, Dirigo will open a health insurance exchange, providing vouchers so some eligible low-wage, part-time workers in large firms can purchase their employer’s health plan. The vouchers pay for any eligible plan through any insurance company.

The Bureau of Insurance recently reported that Dirigo has created important competition in Maine’s insurance marketplace through its partnership with the nonprofit, top-ranked Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. This year small-business insurance premiums grew by 21 percent. While costs are still too high, the DirigoChoice rate increase was substantially smaller, at 8.4 percent. Importantly, small businesses and sole proprietors can buy DirigoChoice today. While new employee subsidies are unavailable until August, small businesses in Maine are finding DirigoChoice to be an affordable option.

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You are correct that Dirigo has not met its aspirations to cover all of the uninsured, but your readers need to know why. The compromise that won bipartisan support for Dirigo in 2003 also resulted in a significant reduction in funding and cost containment tools that were part of the original bill. With far fewer dollars, we of course could only serve some of our original target.

That said, in 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in rates of uninsured; today we are 6th best.

Trish Riley, Augusta, director

Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance

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