Lawmakers say Maine could create health exchange

Associated Press photo

Gov. Paul LePage

LEWISTON — Maine Gov. Paul LePage may have closed the door on the state setting up its own health insurance exchange, but state lawmakers, especially Democrats, aren't ruling out the possibility.

State Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport.

State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston.

State Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell.

Even some members of LePage's Republican Party said Friday a bipartisan bill that sets up an exchange in Maine might be possible for the upcoming 126th session of the Legislature, which starts in January.

Incoming House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said Friday he had no intention of authoring a bill to set up an exchange, but he anticipated at least one such bill to come before the next Legislature.

The federal government has set a date for states to decide whether to set up their own exchanges or allow the federal government to do it. Fredette said he didn't believe there was anything in the law that prevented states from setting up their own exchanges even after that date passes.

"This is not a drop-dead date," he said.

The law says states must decide whether to set up exchanges or to let the federal government step in and do it for them. Initially, Maine had until Friday to decide, though U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday that the deadline was extended to Dec. 14.

Under federal law, it appears Maine would not be able to set up its own exchange until 2014, but legislation to do that could be passed in 2013.

Fredette said Maine Democrats and Republicans earlier this year passed health insurance reforms that were supported by bipartisan votes and he didn't see why they might not find a way to compromise on an exchange, as well.

Most lawmakers have agreed it would be better to have state control of the exchange, especially one that would be largely funded by the federal government.

"I think that any bill that comes forward on this will be treated with fairness and objectivity and would be given the full public process of going before the various committees, and so forth," Fredette said.

He said it would be "far too early to speculate" on whether Republicans would stand with Democrats to override any potential LePage veto of legislation that sets up an insurance exchange for Maine.

LePage said Friday he decided to let the federal government set up a health insurance exchange, rather than have the state design the program that's part of the national Affordable Care Act.

Reiterating points he made in a letter a day earlier to Sebelius, LePage said that without knowing more details about the cost and nature of state-based exchanges, Maine could be placed in the position of serving as the administrator of a new federal health care bureaucracy over which the state had little control.

LePage wrote that the health care overhaul law championed by President Barack Obama "has severe legal problems, is bad policy and overreaches into the lives and pocketbooks of fellow Americans."

Exchanges are online marketplaces where consumers can shop for insurance, compare prices and determine which policy best fits their needs.

Many states had put off a decision until after the Nov. 6 election, since Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had said he would move to repeal the 2010 law, which is overwhelmingly opposed by most Republican politicians.

"The ACA is full of federal mandates; as such, even a state-based health insurance exchange is actually controlled by the federal government," LePage wrote. "In the end, a state exchange puts the burden onto the states and the expense onto our taxpayers, without giving the state the authority and flexibility we must have to best meet the needs of the people of Maine."

LePage is one of 21 governors attending a Republican Governors Association conference who signed a letter to Sebelius asking for six critical changes in the health care exchange requirement. But LePage made it clear that Maine is not setting one up.

"I'm not lifting a finger," LePage told Bloomberg News at the RGA meeting in Las Vegas. "We're not going to get involved. We're going to let Mr. Obama do a federal exchange. It's his bill."

Legislative leaders in the recently elected Democratic majority were quick to note that Maine's options are obvious and insisted Friday that the state would be remiss not to build its own exchange.

Democrats also said they fully expect any state law setting up an exchange would be bipartisan.

"Health care is too big an issue for either party to solve on its own," said state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston.  

She said statements like the ones LePage made this week were not going to be part of the solution.

"By digging in his heels, he isn't helping the people of Maine get access to affordable health care," Rotundo said. "By digging in his heels, he cuts off that opportunity for all of us to work together and we should all have the same goal of maximizing opportunities for people to access affordable health care."

Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, said she was optimistic lawmakers from both parties would be able to craft legislation on the exchange and other items that would help Maine fully implement the federal law.

Treat has been the ranking Democrat on the Legislature's Insurance and Financial Services Committee and would be a likely candidate to chair the committee in 2013.

Logistically, she said, she didn't believe the state had time to get an exchange operational by October 2013, as required by law. Treat said it was likely, given LePage's stance on the issue, that Maine would start out with the federal exchange.

She said Fredette is correct in suggesting there will be opportunties for Maine to implement its own exchange in the future and in fact believes the federal government may prefer that.

"The governor's comments that he would do nothing and perhaps obstruct things won't prevent us from moving forward," Treat said. She said that with enough Republican support in the Legislature, "the fact that (LePage) is not interested in implementing an exchange may be less important."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Lawmakers say Maine could create health exchange

all saturday night in Hawai'i ( outside ;)
Minnesota's got one already ? Simple solution . Copy theirs , ME concerned lawmakers . The work is already done . There is no such thing as plagiarism in this case . Just Do It ? Screw the laconic and cynical Republican politicians . They have heath care already anyway •
/s Steve

Diana Currier's picture


Get ready for another of my letters Peggy AND Sharon!

Diana Currier's picture


I wrote him a letter and told him I was addicted to sh%t in my life, I never had any help to quit the addictions, i just DID it. If they would look into shutting down meth clinics, then working Maine just might qualify for Mainecare. I see NO reason these people should get that paid for, when you can't even get help quiting cigarettes! And Maine DID suck up the lawsuit money for the tobacco settlement.Where did that go?? Running the place a$$ backwards!! Shut down the clinics, save Maine millions. If they can walk or get a ride to the clinic on time they can go to work on time too! THAT will help! But your right, he can't lift a finger and that is why he has what 5 assistants!! for WHAT?? he doesn't do anything except run around on trips, oh yeah that's for Maine,( LAUGHs)

Bob Stone's picture

Good thinking by LePage

The Feds control the game. Let them do it. Obama has all the answers and Pelosi probably has read the legislation by now so the Feds are in a great position to set these exchanges up.

Watch what happens when businesses start bailing from states that have set up exchanges.

Please note that legislation pushed by Treat several years ago just cost the Maine taxpayers $700,000. Why should we listen to her?

And what does Peggy Rotundo have for experience in healthcare? She's on the Appropriations Committee that has been stiffing Maine healthcare providers for years. Pay your bills, Peggy. We pay ours.

Why can't the Sun-Journal tell the real story of these charlatans? They are so phony.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Bob, you have pointed out...

Bob, you have pointed out the difference between a true leader and a lump on a log. Although I continue to feel that LePage isn't intellectually competent to create this health care exchange. It burns my backside that he can be so blatant at shirking his responsibilities to the people of Maine. He seems to feel that his job description is one long list of possible, line item veto's, he can just pick and choose which ones he likes or dislikes. To be more accurate, able to accomplish, or not able to. Most likely the latter. If He doesn't want to do anything to earn his pay, he could at least fake showing some interest in the well being of the people of Maine. The Republican party is crying fowl over everything, a better term would be, grasping at straws. They don't seem to mind making Maine the laughing stock of the country, but the joke needs to end here. LePage needs to understand that health care is more important than his idiotic politics........

Bob Woodbury's picture

From Saturday's Duluth News Tribune:

Minnesota is ahead of many other states facing a deadline to declare whether they will set up a health care marketplace to help people and small businesses get private insurance.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton began pushing to develop a state-tailored health insurance exchange shortly after taking office in early 2011. That reversed the position taken by his Republican predecessor Tim Pawlenty, who blocked a $1 million grant for the project.

Two years later, Minnesota has received more than $70 million in federal grants to develop its own exchange, and much of the state's progress report is online for consumers to see.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

How can one person be so narrow minded?????

Could someone explain to me what Paul LePage is actually doing, or has done to improve the lives of Maine people?
Someone needs to sit LePage down and explain to him that he has a job to do. For him to just proclaim,"I'm not lifting a finger to help", is not an option. We need this done, and its his sworn duty to do it. He may not like it, but he is holding every citizen of this state hostage to is idiotic Republican beliefs. I can't figure out what he's waiting for, but we can't wait. Health Care is important to every single man woman and child in this state. All we have is a useless Governor who likes playing games. On top of that he still gets paid>>>>>>:>(((


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