Democrats Push Changes to GOP Health Care Insurance Reform

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Obamacare Protest
By S.E. Robinson

Less than two years into its implementation, the Republican-led health care insurance reform, known as Public Law 90, is helping stem rate increases for Maine individuals and businesses.  But despite evidence of the law’s benefit, Democrats in Augusta and activists on the left are waging a campaign against what they have pejoratively dubbed “the rate hike law.”

In the decade prior to PL 90, the typical small-group and individual rate payer in Maine saw average annual increases of 17 and 13 percent, respectively. By comparison, recent rate increases have averaged just 11 percent in the small-group market and 1.7 percent for individuals, according to new information from the Maine Bureau of Insurance.

An Act to Improve Health Insurance Transparency (LD 102), introduced by Adam Goode (D-Bangor),  would repeal changes to the rate review process instituted by Republicans and return to the pre-PL 90 statutory process for advance review and prior approval of individual health insurance rates.

Prior to PL 90, all rate increases in the individual market were subject to public hearings, often lasting a year or more, and the lengthy review process caused insurance companies to aim for higher increases because they could not adequately predict distant market conditions or the outcome of hearings.

“Before PL 90 the rate review process was arduous and expensive, and the higher costs were always passed along to consumers,” said Jonathan B. McKane, a former Republican representative of Newcastle. “The old process did nothing to keep rates in check,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is the genius of the free-market at work,” said McKane.

Dan Bernier, a Waterville-based attorney who helped write the law, said reforms the Democrats are pushing would increase costs while doing little to improve the quality of coverage.

“It’s absurd to argue that the Maine Bureau of Insurance needs outside help with rate review,” said Bernier.

Bernier said under the old process outside advocacy groups would file interveners to get involved in rate review hearings, which often resulted in insurers being forced to cover the groups’ legal fees – costs that were then passed along to rate payers.

Goode’s legislation would also open the proceedings of the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association (MGARA), the reinsurance program established by PL 90 for the high-risk segment of Maine’s health insurance market, to citizens and activists as provided in the Freedom of Access Act.

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Bangor), a co-sponsor of Goode’s legislation, is wary of MGARA.

Gratwick, a medical doctor practicing in Bangor, said LD 102 will force the Superintendent of the Bureau of Insurance to deliver audits of MGARA to the legislature and the public. “I have several questions about MGARA board members’ relationships with the three major insurers,” he said.

Unlike other states’ pools, where boards are comprised mostly of officials from insurance companies, the Superintendent of the Bureau of Insurance appoints the majority of MGARA’s board – an aspect of the law designed intentionally to avoid suspicions like Gratwick’s.

Skeptics of PL 90 have also pointed to contact information on the MGARA’s website which lists an address in Idaho – a fact some believe justifies calls for greater transparency.

But like all risk pools, MGARA is run by a corporate administrator, and the board decided to hire the same company that runs the Idaho pool.

“Given their experience and record with the Idaho pool, that was an excellent decision by the MGARA board,” said Bernier.

Bernier added that extending the Freedom of Access rule to a private corporation such as MGARA would open the window to further encroachments into the operations of many large businesses in Maine. “It would set a very dangerous precedent,” he said.

Although Democrats in Augusta are not satisfied with the rate review process set up by PL 90, federal regulators in the Obama administration are.

The Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) reviewed the law shortly after its passage in May of 2011, concluding PL 90 established an effective rate review process.

In a letter to Maine Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Eric A. Cioppa dated July 1, 2011, CCIIO Director Steve Larsen said, “We applaud your efforts to provide an effective rate review program for your State’s insurance consumers that meet the criteria outlined in the Affordable Care Act.”

In a second letter dated October 19, 2011, Larsen said, “We applaud your efforts to provide your State’s insurance consumers with an Effective Rate Review Program for association coverage and we encourage all States to continue their efforts to ensure that rates charged to health insurance consumers in their State are reasonable.”

So if PL 90 is lowering rates and receiving so much applause from federal bureaucrats, why aren’t Democrats and leftist groups cheering?

Perhaps because PL 90 eliminated consumer advocate groups from the rate review process, including the leftist Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) and its partner Consumers for Affordable Health Care (CAHC). Both groups have long advocated for single-payer, government-run health insurance.

According to data at MaineOpenGov.org, CAHC has received more than $1.1 million from taxpayers since 2007 for consultation and public education services. This figure includes $160,000 from an August 2010 federal grant intended to support rate review.

But since PL 90, CAHC not been able to obtain public funding for its intervention in the rate review process.

According to multiple sources in Augusta, Gov. Paul LePage axed more than $350,000 in funding originally intended for CAHC. Many see the latest round of Democrat-backed bills as a way to bring groups like CAHC back into the rate review process.

“Consumers for Affordable Health Care has no interest in improving the private health insurance market or ensuring it works for hard-working Maine people,” said Maine GOP Chairman Rich Cebra.

“Their goal is, and has always been, to force a complete government takeover of healthcare and they will work to disrupt any effort to make the private health insurance market work for Maine people,” he said.

“This exposes their real goal, they don’t want affordable health insurance for the Maine people – they want government control over the healthcare of the Maine people.”

Several calls placed to Consumers for Affordable Health Care were not returned.

 

 

 

 

15 COMMENTS

  1. Great column. PL 90 is still in its infancy but it is already showing results, especially in the individual market. The Dems and their special interest “advocacy groups” are hell-bent on destroying it and bringing Maine back to being the most over-regulated insurance market in the country.

  2. Why do the Dem’s always want to create more hoops to jump through with everything they touch? Because they want the power to decide everything for us. Government is always more “knowledgeable” than ” we the people”!

  3. Good article. I’d like to see a list of the registered lobbyists for the MPA and CAHC, for a little more transparency as to the connections to other organizations in Maine and elsewhere. It appears obvious that Cebra is correct, these groups simply want to destroy any private sector insurance industry through overly costly regulation and crippling rate review processes. Just galling that these groups previously had their legal costs paid back by the insurance companies when they drag out the review processes. Talk about a disincentive to making the review process efficient!

  4. Would you please revise your rhetoric to put two words in front of the names of both these organizations. ” self appointed”. These groups do not advocate for all or even the majority of Mainers.

  5. I find it not surprising that Augusta Democrats are lying about the benefits of PL90. After all, they prove time and again that if they can’t carry their message with truth they revert to just plain lying.

    As for the Marxists at the MPA and CAHC, it has nothing to do with helping the people of Maine, but everything to do with forcing their dictatorial agenda of control upon us.

  6. The premise that Consumers for Affordable Healthcare is some covert group working against the interests of Mainers is ridiculous.

    More than any other advocacy group in the state, they promote sound sense approaches to the development of a functional health-care delivery system in Maine.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with Marxism. It’s about providing a minimal level of health services to every citizen regardless of their station in life.

    Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about? You know, assuring the general welfare of our citizenry and all that?

  7. MPA and CAHC are committed to the single-payer solution. If PL90 is successful it undermines their dreams and hopes. It’s never a good idea to assume that empirical results will overcome an ideological enthusiasm. Better to assume an innate urge to undermine and obstruct.

  8. “What we’re seeing now is the genius of the free-market at work,” said McKane.

    It doesn’t Take A Genius to Understand that absent regulations the Insurance Industry will Soak every dollar that they can get out of the general public!

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