Putting the brakes on DirigoChoice

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Lawmakers, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the Maine Hospital Association have reached a compromise on DirigoChoice that will fund the program through next spring.

The compromise – which has already passed an initial vote in the Senate and is expected to be taken up by the House early this week – will require insurance carriers to certify that they have not profited from savings through Dirigo, it reduces the 2006 objectionable so-called savings offset from $43.7 million to $26 million this year, and establishes a blue ribbon commission to study why folks aren’t buying Dirigo insurance at the pace expected by the governor’s office. This commission will also be charged with studying what Maine could do to make Dirigo more affordable, including taking a look at the expansion of MaineCare benefits under this universal health-care plan.

What it does, fundamentally, is maintain the status quo.

Maybe that’s the best we can hope for in an election year.

In the first year of DirigoChoice, the state had hoped to sign up 31,000 people, but enrollment fell woefully short. More criticism arose when the state failed to force insurance companies to come up with the savings offset, which funds the program.

DirigoChoice, designed to be self-sustaining, is not. The program, designed to attract droves of uninsured and underinsured, serves what has been defined as a “relatively small number of people.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s charge to figure out why people aren’t signing up is wise. The commission’s charge to examine the funding mechanism for Dirigo is also wise.

There is no question that paying for health care has been a crisis for many families, and Dirigo was designed to answer that need by relying on Anthem to write insurance policies that are then subsidized by the state. It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked from the start.

“A lot of things about Dirigo have been done in haste,” according to the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

We agree. Including the bill that created Dirigo, fast-tracking the program into existence in a matter of weeks under Augusta’s “pass it now, fix it later” philosophy. It has been zooming along, resistant to change, ever since.

This compromise puts much-needed brakes on DirigoChoice.

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