AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – The economy may be people’s biggest worry, but the need for health care reform shouldn’t be overlooked, Gov. John Baldacci said. In his weekly radio address, Baldacci said the state has made strides to improve the health care system and now is the time faction at the national level. “We can’t do it without Washington’s help,” Baldacci said. “We can improve the quality and access to health care. And we can do it in a way that contains costs.” Between 1996 and 2006, average health insurance premiums for families have nearly doubled to almost $12,000 a year, and in some cases, people are working just to pay their health insurance premiums, Baldacci said. In Maine, more than 35 percent of the state budget is spent on health care, he added. The whole economy suffers as workers are forced to spend more to stay insured, and companies are forced to spend more to cover their employees or drop coverage altogether, Baldacci said. A national debate over proposals being considered by Congress is being tainted by “fear and misinformation” that’s aimed to confusing or scaring people about proposed reforms, he said. The question that people should be asking is whether the status quo is acceptable: Spiraling health care costs and 45 million people without coverage, he added. House Minority Leader Josh Tardy warned that Americans don’t want to see the best health care system in the world “destroyed by a government that seems to have gone rogue.” Instead of focusing on helping people who can’t get insurance because they have serious diseases or pre-existing conditions, congressional Democrats and President Obama “are gung-ho to rip apart the entire system,” Tardy, R-Newport, said. If the House bill sponsored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., passes, the country’s 1,300 private insurance companies will be unable to compete with the government plan and will “wither and die,” he said. Tardy cited a report that says that most Mainers with private coverage would transition to the government option if the reform package passes. That would financially hurt hospitals in the state because of the larger share of Medicare-based payments in the public plan, he said.

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