AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci joined with the head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care on Monday to urge support for a bill advocates say is needed to shore up Maine’s troubled Dirigo Health program.

Flanked by a host of House members, Baldacci and Harvard Pilgrim President Charles Baker spoke optimistically about the Dirigo program’s accomplishments and prospects as backers of the bill suggested its fate lies in the other chamber of the Legislature.

“We’re working the Senate very hard,” said House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, the measure’s chief proponent.

Pingree’s Dirigo Health bill would change the funding mechanism for the program by repealing a controversial savings offset payment that targets insurers and replacing it with a health access surcharge on paid claims. It also calls for a 50-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax.

Additionally, the bill would establish a reinsurance association for the individual health insurance market without placing individuals in a separate risk association. The state superintendent of insurance, meanwhile, would be authorized to approve a pilot project to let health insurance carriers offer individual health insurance products for young people under the age of 30.

“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to pass Dirigo,” Pingree said.

Deputy Republican Senate floor leader Richard Rosen of Bucksport, however, said the design of the program and its financing remained problematic.

“What I object to is that only people who buy this one product are entitled to the subsidy,” Rosen said.

More generally, he said, “I don’t think there is a real appetite for the revenue generation,” whether under the current scheme or in the new method spelled out in the Pingree bill.

Baker, appearing with Baldacci at a Cabinet Room news conference, said an underserved market in Maine offers “a huge potential opportunity for Dirigo.”

Last October, Harvard Pilgrim signed a contract to administer the Dirigo program, which has by some counts 15,000 members. Harvard Pilgrim succeeds Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Dirigo was created in 2003 as a step toward universal health care, but has drawn criticism for falling below enrollment expectations.

Its reliance on a savings offset payment has sparked regulatory battles and court fights and Baldacci said Monday restructuring the program’s financing mechanism could make it less contentious and more predictable.

Critics of the Pingree measure have included the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Baldacci said Monday the Dirigo Health program offers help to three groups in need – working families, small businesses and the self-employed.

AP-ES-04-07-08 1500EDT

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