State officials ready for health care changes

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Though the recently passed health care reform law made huge changes to federal regulation of the industry, state governments will be responsible for providing the infrastructure to accommodate the new policies.

Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, took the first step in prepping Maine for the changes by signing an executive order this week to form a committee to work on implementation.

The committee will include the director of the governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, the commissioners of the departments of Health and Human Services and Professional and Financial Regulation, the superintendent of insurance and the executive director of the Dirigo Health Agency, according to a release sent out on Friday from the governor’s office.

Maine is already in compliance with some changes implemented by the new federal law, such as allowing low-income people who earn up to 133 percent of poverty to receive Medicaid coverage, and banning insurers from blocking coverage to Mainers with pre-existing conditions.

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DirigoHealth, the controversial state program that aimed to provide more Mainers with affordable health insurance, is also well-positioned to become a state health exchange, according to the release.

Health Exchanges are expected to be a major component of the national reforms. They would initially allow individuals, families and small businesses band together to increase their bargaining power with insurance companies. The exchanges would have significant transparency requirements for insurance companies and health providers. If states choose, they can participate in regional or national exchanges, which would allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines. Larger businesses would be allowed into the exchanges eventually, according to the law.

The executive order signed by Baldacci also calls for state officials to conduct an analysis of the new federal law and develop a plan to apply for any available funding to help ease implementation.

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