AUGUSTA (AP) – A bill to allow let Maine’s Dirigo Health program self-insure won an initial vote of support Tuesday in the Maine House.

Representatives voted 83-55 in favor of legislation to let Dirigo’s board rather than Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield design and market the state program, which is aimed at extending affordable health coverage to the uninsured.

The bill was recommended by a special commission appointed by Gov. John Baldacci to study the structure and financing of Dirigo Health. Last year, the Legislature rejected a Baldacci-backed proposal to allow Dirigo to be self-insured.

Before Tuesday’s House vote, opponents said Dirigo would lack the necessary regulatory oversight if allowed to self-insure, and dismissed the proposal as “another venture into the unknown.”

But supporters say enactment could enable more Mainers to obtain affordable, comprehensive coverage, given that Anthem extracted $3.6 million in net profits in 2005 from the Dirigo products. Supporters said that money could go toward reducing rates or increasing coverage.

The bill faces additional House and Senate votes.

House rejects amendment to reduce size of House

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – A proposed constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the Maine House of Representatives was rejected Tuesday by the House.

A motion to kill the bill passed by a 79-60 tally. The bill would eventually have to be approved by a two-thirds legislative majority in order to be sent to voters.

It seeks a change in Maine’s Constitution to slash the size of the House of Representatives from 151 members to 105. It would also establish in the Constitution the size of the Senate at 35 members, as it is now. The change would take effect in 2009.

Proponents said the measure would save taxpayers a lot of money, but opponents asked lawmakers to reject it and consider an alternative bill that has yet to come up for a vote.

AP-ES-05-22-07 1433EDT

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