AUGUSTA – Scores of Republicans staged a mutiny Tuesday against Gov. John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health plan, with one lawmaker saying, “This caucus is tired of the ‘Star Trek’ adventure. We no longer boldly want to go where no man has gone before.”

They said Dirigo isn’t working, they said too many Mainers are on MaineCare, and they said it’s time for a deregulated, private, for-profit insurance market.

The governor’s spokeswoman responded to the criticism by saying Dirigo is alive and well, and that under GOP proposals insurance costs would go down but some people would no longer be covered when they got sick.

The Republican lawmakers who lined the broad marble staircase outside the governor’s office, however, said junking insurance mandates for the individual and small-group markets would lower premiums by as much as 30 to 50 percent for 200,000 or more Mainers.

DirigoChoice rates “are too expensive, and those running Dirigo have missed all goals outlined by Governor Baldacci,” said Rep. Kevin Glynn, R-South Portland.

At its inception, Dirigo was to provide coverage for 31,000 individuals in the first year, and offer coverage to all 160,000 uninsured within five years. That isn’t happening, said Glynn, who compared Dirigo to a “Star Trek” adventure.

“The people of Maine have had enough experiments with health care. We want to bring health care carriers back to the state of Maine and back to our marketplace,” he said.

The Republicans announced several legislative proposals to deregulate insurance, action they said other states have taken to lower insurance costs.

Maine should junk “community rating” and “guaranteed issue,” they said, and create a “high-risk pool.”

A high-risk pool is a group of people taken out of the regular insurance pool because “they have extremely high medical costs,” said House Republican staffer Jay Finegan. By taking out the sickest, premiums for others can be lowered, encouraging more to buy insurance. Glynn said 33 states with risk pools enjoy lower insurance costs. Premiums are higher for those in the pool, but they’re still lower than what many pay in Maine, Finegan said.

“Community rating” means insurance companies cannot charge someone a higher premium because they have an illness, according to health officials.

“Guaranteed issue” means an insurance company cannot deny someone a policy if they develop cancer, a heart condition or another illness.

Trish Riley, Dirigo’s architect, who heads the Governor’s Office on Health Policy and Finance, disagreed with the call for change.

Dirigo is working, she said. “We’ve been operating for a few months. We’re thrilled to have more than 4,000 people enrolled and 1,400 Maine businesses have signed up.”

Dirigo hasn’t had a chance to prove itself, she said. “If people would stop criticizing it (and) help us make it work better, we’d be even stronger,” Riley said. “But we’re very comfortable with where we are.”

Insurance premiums are high in Maine “because our health care costs are high.” High health costs are what’s driving high insurance costs, Riley said.

Under the Republicans’ plan, insurance costs would go down, but for the wrong reasons, she said. When people got sick, their health insurance provider would be able to drop their coverage. Similarly, insurance carriers would no longer be required to provide certain levels of care, she said.

“You’re basically taking away the capacity of sick people to get and keep insurance,” Riley said.

In addition, high-risk pools in other states tend to be small “and very expensive.” Premiums are so high for the people in them they have to be subsidized by taxpayers, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan, D-Portland, said the Republican proposals, including the high-risk pool, have been considered before and rejected.


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