New plan for savings on health care aired

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Deliberations on Maine’s Dirigo Health program moved out of committee Friday and came before the full Legislature.

The Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee voted 7-5 along party lines to approve what majority Democrats called a revised short-term funding plan.

The plan would cut a $44 million savings offset payment due from insurers to $23 million, while making available to the Dirigo Health Agency another $11 million that had been set aside as a potential cost cushion for Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield, whose contract with the state runs through this year.

The Dirigo Health Agency would also reduce its administrative expenses by $2 million from 2006. The net effect would be to cover program costs into next year.

Late Friday in the Senate, which has a 19-16 Democratic majority, the new program funding plan was given all-but-final approval along party lines, mirroring the insurance panel’s action.

Gov. John Baldacci, who has championed the Dirigo Health initiative, said last fall it would be “unacceptable … Period” for health insurance companies to raise their premiums because of fees they have to pay for the Dirigo program.

The pending measure would pledge providers to using best efforts to limit the impact of the savings offset payments on rates.

Additionally, a Blue Ribbon Commission would study long-range funding for the program.

Aides to Baldacci said he had not taken a position on the Democratic committee proposal. Democratic House and Senate leaders, meanwhile, heralded what they described as a compromise with insurers, hospitals and business.

Maine Insurance Superintendent Alessandro Iuppa found last fall that Dirigo initiatives produced savings of $44 million in its first year.

That decision is under appeal by the Maine Association of Health Plans and two other business organizations.

Dirigo Health, designed to provide access to health care for 130,000 uninsured and underinsured Mainers, became law in 2003.

“Maine is taking the lead in putting quality health care within reach of all Maine people,'”‘ House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, said in a statement. “Maine is one of only a handful of states insuring more people now than four years ago, while in most states more and more people are losing their health insurance. We will continue moving Maine forward in lowering health care costs for Maine people and businesses through Dirigo.”

Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, also spoke optimistically.

“This was an incredibly difficult process, getting buy-in from everyone, and we’re not done yet,” Edmonds said in a joint statement with Richardson. “This agreement will help us deliver the promise of quality affordable health care to more Mainers, and leave the door open for improving the funding mechanism so that all share the burden fairly and appropriately.”

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