GOP pushes surprise insurance overhaul through committee

AUGUSTA — Republican lawmakers in Augusta have long expressed a desire to overhaul how insurance is purchased in the state.

On Friday, the GOP took an unprecedented, and surprising, step toward fulfilling that wish.

In a move that infuriated Democrats, seven Republicans on the Legislature's Insurance Committee approved a bill that would repeal existing state insurance laws and replace them with an insurance program modeled after one currently used in Idaho.

Rep. Wesley Richardson, R-Warren, called the proposal a "benefit to the people of Maine," adding that the bill would make insurance more affordable by opening up interstate sale of policies, among other things.

Democrats and health advocates had a much different view, which led to a 7-4 approval along party lines.

Details of the bill were still being disseminated following the panel's decision to send it to the House for a vote. That's because the specifics were contained in a 29-page amendment that wasn't made public until Friday morning.

The last-minute introduction of the proposal riled Democrats, who accused Republicans of forcing a vote without sufficiently vetting the bill or obtaining analysis from the state Bureau of Insurance.

Republicans rebuffed Democrats' attempt to table the vote.

"I've been a committee chair since 1982," Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said. "And I've never seen anything ramrodded through committee without facts, discussion and public input. We were handed more than three inches of paper, including five-year-old data from another state. We had no time to read it — never mind time to understand the impact this will have on people's lives."

Republicans on the committee rejected those claims, saying all the elements of the proposal had been discussed over the years, in one form or another. 

In response to criticism by Brannigan that Republicans weren't giving Democrats a chance to review it and offer a compromise, Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, said, "You've got all weekend to study it."

Earlier in the work session, McKane said it wouldn't make any difference if Democrats had time to review the specifics because they'd reject it.

"Every aspect of this bill has been vetted over the last 10 years," he said. "We all know this stuff. It's time to pass it."

Richardson sponsored the original bill, LD 1333, and the amendment that effectively replaced it with a consolidation of seven other interstate insurance bills.

He said the bill had received significant input from insurance companies.

That the insurance industry played a significant role in drafting the bill unsettled Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell.

"It appears that the majority party on the committee had no interest in anything except a bill they developed in secret in partnership with the insurance industry," she said in a release.

The Maine Chamber of Commerce was not involved in the bill's drafting. The state's largest business advocate had previously testified against several of the interstate insurance bills introduced earlier this month, saying they could create "winners and losers" in the business community.

A representative for the chamber declined to comment on the latest proposal.

Other health groups said the bill appears to violate portions of the federal health care law.

"This rewrites all the health insurance laws in the state," Mitchell Stein, the policy director with Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said. "It scraps fundamental things in consumer protections, rate regulations and a foundation that's been built up over the last 20 years. This changes everything."

Andy MacLean, with the Maine Medical Association, characterized the bill as a GOP push for a political victory.

He said the victory could be short-lived.

"If they (Republicans) want to make this kind of a statement, statements are important, I guess," MacLean said. "But it seems like an unnecessary retrenchment when, unless things change through the courts, this state, along with all the others, is going to be implementing the ACA."

Tarren Bragdon, the outgoing CEO of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, said that he was one of several stakeholders who offered input on the amendment.

Bragdon, a former senior transition adviser for Gov. Paul LePage, has long advocated for health insurance reform, and MHPC is a fierce opponent of the federal health care law. 

He said the bill would make insurance more affordable for Mainers.

Currently the state offers insurance to all individuals, or guaranteed issue. Other states can refuse coverage and force people into a high-risk pool.

Idaho, Bragdon said, offers guaranteed issue for an individual's original insurance carrier. He said the Idaho plans were more affordable because some individuals would receive reimbursement, or subsidies, for claims. 

Stein, with Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said the only way to fund the high-risk pool is a surcharge on those currently insured.

Stein worried the bill will force premiums so high that more Mainers will be uninsured.

Democrats had an equally gloomy outlook. 

"From what we do know, this proposal hurts small businesses, rural Mainers, the chronically ill and anyone over 50 who is not yet eligible for Medicare," Treat said.

The bill has the early backing of the LePage administration, which had originally planned to submit an insurance overhaul through another regulatory reform proposal.

Kathleen Newman, LePage's deputy chief of staff, said Friday that the proposal may not be necessary if LD 1333 is successful.

smistler@sunjournal.com 

(This story was updated to delete a reference to the Dirigo Health program)

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Comments

RONALD RIML's picture

By Their Works Ye Shall Know Them

That Republicans love "Health Insurance" as it is a 'Money Maker' while Democrats strive for "Health Care" as it affects positive outcomes.

Naran Row-Spaulding's picture

The Article is Wrong

The SJ article says this:

"..the specifics were contained in a 29-page amendment that wasn't made public until Friday morning."

*************

Here's the response from Rep. McKane:

"That is quite simply, wrong. The full amendment was heard on Wednesday. On Friday, a small amendment on captured insurance was offered to the full amendment."

"Every issue contained in LD 1333 has been heard and debated many times over the years. My testimony was essentially the same one I offered last session and the session before that. This wasn’t designed by insurance companies and in fact, they do not like the out-of-state insurance plan nor do they like the captive insurance plan."

http://www.asmainegoes.com/content/gop-pushes-surprise-insurance-overhau...

*********

Specifics do matter. The SJ should issue a retraction.

RONALD RIML's picture

New Session - New Bill

Expose it to the scrutiny of the light of day as Justice Brandeis advises.

Or does this mean we will never again hear you or other Maine Republicans complain about the the introduction of the 'Affordable Health Care Act'

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Winners and losers

Winners here will be the health insurance companies who wrote this bill, the Heritage Foundation who apparently likes this bill and people who can afford cadillac plans. Losers will be people over 50 who are ill and do not qualify for medicare for years to come, small businesses who will lose their subsidies, anyone with a previous health impediment, or a sick baby, anyone who buys health insurance who will beat the mercy of whatever the insurance companies want to throw at them regardless of high premiums and poor coverage, people who buy those inexpensive plans only to find out they don't cover anything and of course the working poor who are uninsured, who think they don't need insurance or can't afford insurance and who often end up in the emergency room causing everyone who is insured to pay for them. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that!!

Naran Row-Spaulding's picture

Sadly, that's essentially

Sadly, that's essentially what we already have in Maine. People who try to avoid the MaineCare co-payments end up in the ER all the time. I have good friends who work in Maine hospitals, and they see it every single day.

Maine currently has a completely unsustainable insurance system, and it's killing our residents, both financially and medically.

Families who do have insurance are forced to choose between groceries and paying their onerous insurance premiums. Maine has severely limited choices on plans and companies, because by law, we can't go outside the state for coverage. We can buy car insurance from a Michigan company, but not health insurance. Why?

Many other residents cannot afford any kind of insurance, so they end up at the ER, and on charity programs at our hospitals. They go without preventative measures, and end up sicker as a result.

Many of those on MaineCare, like I said above, try to avoid the co-payments by skipping their PCP's and going to the ER. Meanwhile, many Maine providers are not taking any new MaineCare clients, and some are dropping those they already have. That's because the payments are late, and inadequate to meet the real costs.

We need a serious change. Our insurance and health system is busted, and they need a serious "fix."

Doreen Sheive's picture

Trust

I just can't understand why so many Republicans are so willing to trust the insurance companies. It has been proven over and over again that insurance companies are not to be trusted. And, yet, here we go again. All legislaton requires the time necessary to receive proper study, review and input. For some legislators to state that this subject has been discussed for the least ten years so it deserves passage now is ridiculous. If indeed it has been discussed for ten years, there are reasons why the majority of legislators have not passed it. I would think that this legislation, at a minimum, should be tabled and carried over into the next session so that it receives the proper review, study and input.

Mark Turek's picture

Dirigo needs to be replaced

How soon before the failure called Dirigo Health Plan will be replaced with a better program?

RONALD RIML's picture

As soon as Republicans

agree to a National Single Payer System a la Theodore Roosevelt.....

 's picture

Isn't it surprising that when

Isn't it surprising that when out of power, a party promises transparency, but when they obtain power, all their dealings are behind closed doors. Things never change.

Naran Row-Spaulding's picture

Sorry, but if you read the

Sorry, but if you read the comments from McKane that I posted above, you will see the "surprise" element of this issue is largely erroneous.

RONALD RIML's picture

It's never a surprise that

Republicans will throw this out to a largely laissez-faire deregulated open market to maximize profits. The fact that the 'Insurance Industry' wrote the bill should lead us to another conclusion???

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