Democratic Lawmakers Accuse Dirigo Health Board Nominee of Wanting Higher Costing, Poorer Quality Health Care

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Democrats Sen. Geoff Gratwick (left) and Rep. Sharon Treat (right) accused Jonathan McKane of wanting higher costing, poorer quality health care for Mainers.

Democrats on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee last Tuesday reached new heights of incivility in savaging Gov. Paul R. LePage’s nominee to head the Dirigo Health Agency (DHA), Jonathan McKane former Republican Representative of Newcastle.

McKane withstood the barrage of heated rhetoric as the committee’s co-chairs Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Bangor) and Rep. Sharon A. Treat (D-Hallowell) refused to allow him to respond to criticisms ranging from matters of policy to direct assaults on his character.

“The lawmakers opposed to the nomination cited McKaine’s long-standing opposition to Dirigo Health and its mission of increasing affordable health care in the private market,” House Democrats said in a March 5 press release following the committee’s 8-5 partisan vote against the nomination.

“Mr. McKane from the outset has worked to undermine this program and its mission at every turn,” said Treat in the release.

The Maine Legislature created DHA in 2003 as “an independent executive agency to arrange for the provision of comprehensive, affordable health care coverage to eligible small employers, including the self-employed, their employees and dependents, and individuals on a voluntary basis.” The Legislature specified that DHA “is also responsible for monitoring and improving the quality of health care in this State.”

Given the goals of DHA, the allegation from Treat, Gratwick and their Democratic colleagues that McKane opposes those goals is equivalent to stating that he wants poorer quality health care at higher costs.

Bob Stone, vice president at Androscoggin Bank and Maine Turnpike Authority board member, said McKane would be a valuable addition to an agency board that has traditionally lacked a diversity of views.

“Jon would make an excellent board member,” said Stone. “He has some strong opinions, but a board needs to represent a diversity of opinion,” he said. “If everyone walks in lock-step with what management wants, then the board might as well be a rubberstamp,” he said. “I don’t think that’s good governance.”

The Democrats most profound criticism of McKane orbited comments he made eight years ago at the then-obscure online forum As Maine Goes. In that forum, McKane and others have called DHA’s cheerleaders “dirigirls”.

Rachel Sukeforth, a failed Democratic candidate from Litchfield and former Department of Health and Human Services employee, testified against McKane, stating that his use of the term disqualifies him from heading the agency.

“By using the term at all, Mr. McKane was engaging in sexism by marking the gender of and subtly infantilizing the women involved in Dirigo,” said Sukeforth.

Sukeforth went on to imply that McKane opposes woman suffrage because he posted a historical pamphlet from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage in response to comments other forum users made about President Barack Obama using free birth control to garner support from female voters.

McKane on Monday declined to comment about the results of the hearing or the Democrats suggestion that he wants health care to cost more, but told The Maine Wire he expected things to go differently on Tuesday when he returns to the committee for an additional hearing.

In his initial testimony, McKane acknowledged his previous criticism of DHA.

“It was a very expensive experiment with questionable funding methods, in particular the Savings Offset Payment, and overall was extremely complex,” said McKane. “I was never, however, against the goal of insuring more Maine people or for reducing the price of care through efficiencies of cost or efficiencies in health care itself.”

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