Lobbyists flocked to insurance overhaul bill

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AUGUSTA — A recently enacted law that repeals and rewrites many of Maine’s insurance laws has been the most contentious bill this legislative session.

It also was one of the most intensely lobbied.

According to records at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, lobbyists representing at least 24 organizations — mostly insurance companies and affiliates — attempted to influence lawmakers on LD 1333, the Republican-backed initiative that will make sweeping changes to the state’s health insurance laws and allow out-of-state providers to sell plans here.

Ten of the 24 organizations that lobbied the insurance bill were either insurance providers, coalitions of those providers or organizations representing insurance underwriters.

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Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Harvard Pilgrim each deployed two lobbyists to work LD 1333. Aetna and Cigna were also represented, along with the Maine Association of Health Plans and the Maine Insurance Agents Association.

All told, the insurance industry paid at least nine lobbyists — nearly half of the 20 lobbyists who tried to influence lawmakers on LD 1333.

Two lobbyists represented MaineHealth, a coalition of state hospitals. The Maine Hospital Association sent one.

The Maine Medical Association, representing the state’s doctors, was represented by one lobbyist.

Three health advocate organizations attempted to influence the legislation, including the Maine Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Society.

Business groups also worked the bill. They included the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Maine Trial Lawyers Association.

The bill also drew the attention of advocacy groups with strong political leanings.

Two progressive organizations, Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Maine People’s Alliance, opposed the bill.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, supported LD 1333. Tarren Bragdon, the organization’s outgoing CEO, played a significant role in shaping the legislation. He briefed the Republican caucus about the bill before the House of Representatives voted, mostly along party lines, to give the bill preliminary approval.

It’s difficult to calculate the total amount of money spent lobbying a particular bill. State law requires lobbyists to disclose expenditures for specific legislation only if they spend more than $1,000 in one month while working for one organization.

Lobbyists have exceeded the $1,000 threshold at least 240 times so far this session on a host of bills. It’s happened nine times on LD 1043, Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal, and six times on LD 1, the regulatory reform package.

It happened four times with lobbyists working LD 1333, a bill that went from public hearing to enactment in 20 days. LD 1 could be enacted Friday, 95 days after its first public hearing.

The Maine Wellness Association, an insurance producer that supports the bill, leads the list, having spent $5,355 lobbying the legislative branch, according to disclosure forms.

The Maine Wellness Association has exceeded the $1,000 expenditure mark two other times this session. According to ethics commission documents, it spent $9,299 in March and $2,482 in April on a bill that would have amended the state’s captive insurance laws.

The captives bill was ultimately written into LD 1333.

Bragdon spent $2,644 advocating for LD 1333. Kristine Ossenfort, one of two lobbyists working for Anthem, spent $1,230. Michael Saxl, lobbying for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, spent $1,200.

None of the bill’s opponents reached the $1,000 threshold.

According to committee documents, Anthem and Harvard Pilgrim testified neither for nor against LD 1333 during the public hearing.

Anthem has lobbied more than two dozen bills and has compensated its lobbyists a total of $25,614. But according to ethics commission documents, the state’s largest insurance provider has only exceeded the $1,000 threshold once: on LD 1333.

Harvard Pilgrim has paid its advocates $7,782 this session. LD 1333 is the only bill for which its lobbyists have gone over the $1,000 mark.

Supporters of the new insurance law have said it will break up Anthem’s so-called monopoly in Maine by allowing out-of-state providers to sell plans here.

Opponents say LD 1333 is a handout to insurance companies like Anthem.

Altogether, the four lobbyists who exceeded the $1,000 threshold spent $10,429 attempting to shape LD 1333.

In comparison, the six lobbyists who exceeded the $1,000 mark on LD 1, the regulatory reform bill, spent $12,431. More than 50 organizations lobbied that bill.

smistler@sunjournal.com

This story was updated to show that the language of an insurance captives bill was written into LD 1333.

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