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Maine Democrats’ health insurance rollback headed for LePage’s veto pen

Gov. Paul LePage signed healthcare insurance reform legislation on

Gov. Paul LePage signed healthcare insurance reform legislation on

AUGUSTA – The Maine Legislature voted on Monday to enact legislation intended to repeal Republican-backed health insurance reform known as Public Law 90 (PL90), helping members of the Democratic Party meet a top promise of the 2012 campaign season.

Gov. Paul LePage signed the comprehensive reform legislation (L.D. 1333) into law in May of 2011 following bipartisan approval in both the House and Senate, including support from three Democratic senators.

Democrats and liberal activists began campaigning against PL90 before its effects could even be measured, dubbing it the “Republican rate hike law.” Despite evidence suggesting the law is lowering health insurance costs all across Maine, Democratic lawmakers and activists remain committed to repeal.

The Democrats’ health insurance reform agenda is advancing under two bills: one to rollback changes PL90 made to the rate review process – L.D. 225 – and another to eliminate geographic ratings – L.D. 161. The proposals are the product of negotiations on the Insurance and Financial Services (IFS) Committee that largely involved choosing the best of several proposed ways to repeal every Republican-led health insurance reform.

[RELATED: Maine Democrats Craft Health Insurance Rollback…]

In a written statement, Rep. Sharon A. Treat (D-Hallowell), House Chair of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee said, “We are addressing the most egregious problems with the Republican insurance law, making necessary fixes that support small businesses, and prevent discrimination against rural and eastern, northern parts of the state.”

Rep. Joyce A. Fitzpatrick (R-Houlton), ranking Republican on the IFS Committee, said the ACA rules allow geographic rating and the post-PL90 rate review process.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Fitzpatrick. She said even the federal government agrees that you can have different rates for different regions.

“It doesn’t matter how many regions you have, companies have to meet the 80 percent medical loss ratio,” she said.

“What people don’t get is that healthcare costs drive rates.”

Gov. Paul LePage will veto both attempts at repealing a major accomplishment of his first term as governor and both vetoes are safe, as many Senate Republicans were there at PL90’s genesis. Although PL90 is safe – for now – giving its repeal the last-minute day in the sun is a kind gesture to groups like the Maine People’s Alliance and Consumers for Affordable Health Care. Both groups say the changes PL90 brought about have thrown consumers to the wolfish insurance companies. However, there is good reason to believe that their insistence on public rate review hearings has less to do with protecting consumers and much more to do with sustaining liberal non-profits that advocate single-payer, government-run health insurance.

Ironically, both elements of PL 90 that Democrats are now trying to repeal are fully compliant with the Federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Maine Bureau of Insurance Commissioner Eric Cioppa testified before the Legislature that geographic rating is a practice that is fully compliant with Obamacare and the Obama Administration has sent him two letters applauding the rate review process established under PL 90.

Joel Allumbaugh, president of the Maine Association of Health Underwriters and health care policy analyst for The Maine Heritage Policy Center, says PL 90 has produced some of the most favorable impacts on Maine’s insurance markets in decades.

“While just 3 percent of small companies in Maine saw health insurance rates decreased annually before PL90, we have seen that number increasing steadily since its passage to over 17.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012,” said Allumbaugh.

Rural areas, he said, are also benefitting from PL 90 with 11.8 percent and 13.5 percent of small companies seeing health insurance rates drop in the fourth quarter of 2012 in the eastern and northern Maine respectively.

“The success of PL90 is undeniable and a result of a comprehensive approach that streamlined administrative procedures such as rate review, introduced a reinsurance program to stabilize individual rates, and aligned rating regulations to comply with the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

“Under the guise of fairness, L.D.s 225 and 161 would revert to the dysfunctional insurance regulations that gave Maine some of the highest rates in the nation,” he said.

“The markets will experience more than enough turmoil to go around as Obamacare rolls out in 2014. We don’t need to add fuel to that fire by rolling back sensible reforms that are working for Maine.”

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

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