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Progressives Might Hold More Sway in Next Legislature
11/26/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

As a new legislature begins to take shape, this time under the control of Democrats, party leaders are anxious to review some major policy issues. Among them, changes enacted two years ago to maine insurance laws. Democrats said the changes have created more losers than winners, and they are echoing concerns raised by progressive advocacy groups. Groups that could become more influential in the upcoming legislative session.

While Some Democrats did support the Republican insurance reforms of two years ago, incoming party leaders said they'll take a close look at what's worked...and what hasn't.

"We're not looking to roll back anything, we're looking to move forward," Eves said.

Democratic House Speaker-Elect Mark Eves said his party is not interested in deconstructing the Republican plan sometimes known as P.L. 90 or LD 1333, But it will be on the table.

"We have found that 1333 made it harder for middle class families, small businesses and middle-aged individuals to get coverage and it increased their premiums, so we will be looking at that again," Eves said.

The reform was a comprehensive piece of Republican-crafted legislation that made several market changes in an attempt to lower health insurance costs. It allowed Mainers to buy insurance out of state. And it assessed a $4 charge to the monthly premium of every Mainer with private coverage to underwrite the costs of a new pool of high-risk people with the highest health care expenses. The law also permitted insurers to structure rates based on geographic regions within the state and the ages of potential health insurance consumers. While the law has provided savings for the targeted healthy groups, Eves said it has also raised costs for others in Maine.

"One thing that we're really concerned about is the rate hikes without review," Eves said. "No insurance company in Maine should be able to raise rates without it going through a review process."

Two years ago, a coalition of progressive groups fought the same insurance reforms that Eves now wants to revisit. Those groups included Consumers for Affordable Health Care, the Maine People's Alliance and Maine Equal Justice Partners. And in one of his first decisions as speaker-elect, Eves named Ana Hicks, a senior analyst at Maine Equal Justice Partners, as his chief of staff. But Eves said that in no way suggests that progressive advocacy groups will wield greater influence in the speaker's office.

"My decision around bringing staff on had everything to do with people's experience, their time in the building, knowing the process and political judgment and the policy judgment," Eves said.

Bringing in staff from advocacy groups to assist in policy making is not without precedent at the State House. Two years ago, Tarren Bragdon took a leave of absence as CEO of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center to advise incoming Gov. Paul LePage. And Bragdon's brother, Trevor, who formerly held positions with the conservative groups Americans For Prosperity and Maine Leads, worked as a special assistant in the office of outgoing GOP House Speaker Bob Nutting. At the Maine People's Alliance, Mike Tipping said advocacy groups will continue to assert their influence in Augusta.

"Special interests and corporations have a lot of lobbyists in Augusta and the Maine People's Alliance, we see our role as being the people's lobbyist," Tipping said.

A Republicans said Eves is entitled to choose whomever he wishes to serve on his staff. State Rep. Paul Davis (R-Sangerville), said advocacy groups on both sides of the political spectrum can provide valuable information to lawmakers. State Sen. Doug Thomas, a Republican from Ripley, said THE new Democratic majority can draw from whatever resources it likes if it means improving the delivery of health care services.

"Let's look at the data, let's not cherry pick the data that supports our particular position, but let's look at it all and then let's come to a reasonable solution that lowers health care costs for everyone," Thomas said.

Lawmakers will return to the State House on Dec. 5th to organize the House and Senate and elect a new state attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state and state auditor.

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