Democrats, press are gaming the Dirigo debate

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The governor’s health plan is the most visible. It is not, however, the only game in town.

The people of Maine have endured a veritable blitzkrieg of Dirigo Health program propaganda over the past year. Information about alternatives to Dirigo, of which there are many, however, remains hidden. What the public is being led to believe from this bombardment is that there are no alternatives to Dirigo. We can either move ahead with Dirigo or we shall remain tethered to a failing and obsolete system of health insurance in this state.

On March 9, at the State House in Augusta, a press conference was held by six Republican legislators from the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. We unveiled a different health insurance plan for the state. A few members of the press actually did show up, but their presence seemed little more than a formality. Nothing was on the TV or radio news that night and only a paragraph or two was reported in various newspapers.

Lobbyists for socialized health care attended that day and were quick to corner the few members of the media as the press conference ended. These well paid professionals, who masquerade as “consumer” advocates, are skilled at pushing their agenda forward through the media, while trashing opposing views.

The announcement of the health insurance press conference was made two days beforehand, so everyone knew it was coming. Unfortunately for those interested in learning a little more about Maine’s health insurance alternatives, Gov. Baldacci just happened to call an emergency press conference – for the same day at the same time – on a borrowing plan for highways, a plan which he soon abandoned. The governor’s press conference effectively threw a news blackout on the Republican plan to make health insurance affordable.

The plan we delivered that day was not as “bold,” not as sexy and definitely not experimental as the now infamous Dirigo Health program. Nevertheless, it did show that Dirigo is not the only game in town. The alternative plan is one that took a long time to put together, with hours of research, thought, debate and discussion.

Some of the components of the plan were: To set forth achievable goals of affordable health insurance for Maine’s working people through free market reform; reform of the Dirigo Health program; provide competition to the health insurance market by enactment of a high-risk pool and accessing the federal funds that are available for such; conformity to federal health savings accounts; restructuring of the MaineCare program; letting private insurers contract for MaineCare coverage; reducing health care costs by paying Maine’s debt to our hospitals, promoting healthier lifestyles and medical malpractice liability reform.

Dirigo has tried to address these and other problems with Maine’s health care system, and it has failed. Maine continues the most unaffordable health insurance in the country.

Dirigo obviously is not “leading” anything, as the “Dirigo” name would suggest. It is experimenting at the expense of Maine’s health care consumers.

The ideas in our alternative plan are not “first in the nation” by any means. But these ideas have worked in all of the other states that have instituted them and have made health insurance and health care more affordable and more accessible for all. The public deserves to hear the alternatives being offered instead of just the latest “bold” plan.

Jonathan McKane is a first term legislator from Newcastle and member of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.

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