Maine House passes insurance bill in first vote

AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives today gave initial approval to a Republican bill containing sweeping changes to the state's health insurance laws. The bill now moves to the Senate.

The 76-72 vote broke directly on party lines.

The decision followed a lengthy partisan debate during which Democrats blasted Republicans for fast-tracking a proposal that transformed a four-page bill modifying community rating into a 45-page overhaul of insurance regulations.

Republicans defended the plan, saying allowing out-of-state insurers to sell plans here would drive down premiums and create more consumer choice. They also pushed back against Democratic claims that the legislation wasn't publicly vetted.

Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, responded to the criticism by saying he wished Dirigo Health, the Democrat-backed state health plan, had received the same calls for additional scrutiny.

McKane said Democrats had previous attempts to reform state insurance laws.

"We all knew these reforms were coming," McKane said.

McKane also refuted statements that the bill would increase premiums for older Mainers and those living in rural areas. He said there are provisions that determine how much an insurance company can charge a younger person versus an older person. The ratio in the bill, he said, was identical to that in the federal Affordable Care Act.

But Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, said the proposal hadn't received the proper analysis, citing late review by the Bureau of Insurance that prompted last-minute changes in the bill because provisions violated federal law.

Treat likened the process to buying a used car.

"LD 1333 was rushed off the lot so fast the bondo patching hadn't even dried," Treat said.

She added, "This bill just isn't ready for prime time. It picks winners and losers and pits north versus south and healthy versus the sick."

Rep. Mike Bryant, D-Windham, said Thursday's vote marked a sad day for the Legislature.

"We spent more time on whoopie pies than this bill," Bryant said.

Republican lawmakers were mostly silent during the floor debate.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said he understood that Republicans were "committed to voting blindly for a bill that no one has read." He acknowledged that insurance reform was a GOP campaign issue, but he warned against following through on a campaign promise to support a flawed bill. 

Martin also suggested that GOP support of the bill would come back to haunt them in 2012.

"From a political point of view I hope you vote for the bill," Martin said. "Because I will be happy to go to your communities . . . and have regional meetings to discuss your vote."

On Wednesday, the day before the House vote, the Insurance Committee made several language changes following a preliminary analysis by the Bureau of Insurance.

Noting that it didn't have the time to conduct a more thorough review, the bureau found that the bill violated some federal regulations, including provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The bureau's analysis was sent to committee members late Tuesday night. A final version of the bill was posted on the Legislature's website late Wednesday night.

The nonprofit group Consumers for Affordable Health Care last week issued the same concerns later raised by the bureau, following the committee's surprising vote on a late amendment that transformed a four-page bill modifying community rating regulations into a 29-page repeal and rewrite of the state's insurance laws.

The bill was 45 pages following the committee's language review on Wednesday.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Fast-tracking

Wow who would have guessed that after all the whining they did about the fast-tracking of "Obamacare" (never mind that it was discussed for over a year) that Republicans really think it is the way to govern. Democrats will have to remember that when they regain the majority. As for competition check out the price of gas from station to station. That's the same kind of competition you will get from the insurance companies. And those cheap out of state policies. That will be a real hoot when folks find out what kind of surprises come with those.

 's picture

Insurance reform

Wow. The democrats are against "fast tracking" a health insurance bill. Imagine that!
Ever hear of Obamacare? Didn't someone once say "you have to pass it to see what's in it"? I guess the democrats don't like having the tables turned on them. Competitive pricing is going to be good for everyone.

Mark Elie

 's picture

Time will tell if this is

Time will tell if this is good or bad.But it will be hard to blame this on someone else if it turns out to be bad.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

The dirty deed is done

Here we have a bill written by the health insurance companies passed while the ink was not dry by republicans who did not read it nor did they want to discuss it. The only competition we will see from this law is when the insurance companies compete to see how many ways they can cheat the consumer. Now that the ranks of the uninsured will increase, and insurance coverage will get much more iffy, the cost of healthcare will get dumped onto the hospitals. I can't wait to see how they compete to dump it back onto someone else. Those unfortunate enough to get sick or to have an acccident will be the football in this game. No other country in the world is lucky enough to get a system like this.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Bluntly stated, if things

Bluntly stated, if things were to continue as they are now, every year sees less Mainers able to afford health insurance, less businesses able to offer partially paid health insurance as a benefit, and crappier plans being purchased by those still hanging in there because that's all they can afford. The democrats had years to fix this by opening up competition, and instead they promoted Baldacci's Dirigo and farmed Medicaid as "Mainecare" to work the federal system. ANY attempt to lower costs is welcomed by those of us who actually pay for health insurance. I don't see how this can be a bad deal unless you have interests in Anthem or Aetna.

 's picture

competition in the market?

competition in the market? People can actually make informed decisions? But...but...but...I thought that was the government's job. you know, to tell us what to do. good job and thank you.

 's picture

a farce

"Competition in the market" is hilarious, especially with the anti trust exemptions. The only competition we'll see is who can offer the most expensive policy with the least coverage.

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