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Maine Lawmakers Reconsider Health Insurance Reforms
04/04/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

State lawmakers today considered a package of bills that would undo aspects of a Maine healthcare reform law passed two years ago. Public Law 90 sought to deregulate the health insurance market, increase access and lower premiums. But some Democrats say it's created inequity, and unfairly raises prices for rural Mainers. Patty Wight has more.

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Democratic Sen. Geoff Gratwick, of Penobscot County, says Public Law 90, or PL 90, is the very reason he became a lawmaker. When he's not at the State House, Gratwick is a practicing physician.

"I think that PL 90 was geared toward trying to save money for young people, and people who lived in big metropolitan areas, and it was at the expense of rural Maine," he says.

Under PL 90, insurers have been allowed to charge consumers different health insurance rates based on where they live. Gratwick's bill would require insurers to use one geographic area - the entire state - when establishing rates for individual and small group health plans.

"The concept of insurance - my concept - is that we're all Mainers we're all Americans, we're all in this together," Gratwick says. "And your health and well-being is, in the last analysis, very important to me as an American and as a Mainer."

There are a total of six bills sponsored by Democrats that tackle two aspects of PL 90. There's a fair amount of overlap between them: Two focus on geography, four would reinstate advance review and approval of rate increases.

Mitchell Stein from Consumers for Affordable Health Care says a year before PL 90 was enacted, Maine's insurance commissioner used that approval process to deny a request to increase rates by 9 percent, and instead only increased them by 5 percent.

"That's different from what happened last year when there was a rate increase request of 9-and-change percent. And because of the rules in effect at the time, it went through without any public hearing and public comment," Stein says.

But the spokesman for the House Republican office, David Sorensen, says while Democrats focus on process, they're ignoring the big picture of what PL 90 has achieved.

"Six times as many people are seeing rate decreases as a result," Sorensen says. "Now, there are some issues with rural health care, as opposed to health insurance, that we need to address. But the changes to regulations to the health insurance industry that PL 90 implemented are undeniably good for the state as a whole."

And those changes align with the Affordable Care Act, says Kristine Ossenfort of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She says for the first time in 10 years, Maine has reversed what she calls a death spiral in the number of those insured.

"We're finally seeing that tide start to turn, and we are seeing more people returning to the market, and younger people coming back into that market," Ossenfort says. "And so those are important steps to preserve."

Democrats say lawmakers can't ignore those who have been penalized by the new structure and faced rate increases of 20, 30, even 90 percent. Democrats insist that they aren't trying to undo PL 90 - just strengthen it moving forward.


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