But there's a catch the new plans would exclude providers at six Maine hospitals, and that means subscribers would have to find new doctors. Critics say that Anthem is teaming up with MaineHealth to create a monopoly at the expense of patients.
Opponents of the plan made their feelings known, emphasizing their disapproval with applause for those who spoke against it. Many wore lime green t-shirts that said "Please keep care local." Craig Smith is a primary care physician in Bridgton who says he will not be included in Anthem's new provider network.
"You are essentially cutting out an enormous number of hospitals, an enormous number of providers and patients, and treating our patients like sheep who are just being loaded on trucks and driven across the state to see somebody else. It's disgusting," Smith said.
The proposal would affect about 9,000 Anthem subscribers who purchased their individual market plans after March of 2010. The new so-called Narrow Network Plans exclude six hosptitals in the state: including Bridgton and Rumford, Brunswick's Parkview, York, Mercy hospital in Portland, and Central Maine Medical Center. Daniel Rausch, an oncologist at Central Maine Med., said it doesn't make sense to send cancer patients away from the hospital that's in their backyard.
"The fact that they might have to drive an extra hour every day, five days a week to get radiation therapy, I don't know how that qualifies as comparable care," Rausch said.
Many Anthem subscribers said that aside from the extra time and money involved, there's something else at stake: trust. Mary Dempsey's mother is battling cancer.
"We will have to choose different physicians, and we've been in this cancer journey for awhile," said Dempsey." And we've developed relationships. And to have to go somewhere else, and develop that trust and those relationships again, is just not acceptable."
Dempsey is the sister of the actor Patrick Dempsey, The man behind the Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing at CMMC. And was another famous name at the hearing. Stephen King's daughter, Reverend Naomi King told the audience when her father was struck by a car in 1999, he owed his recovery to the care he received at two of the hospitals that would be shut out of the plan: Bridgton and Central Maine Med.
"And I think if you like good storytelling, you want that quality of care to continue," King said.
Anthem said its changing its plans to accommodate products through the online insurance market under the Affordable Care Act. In order to meet ACA requirements to reduce health care costs, Anthem spokesman Chris Dugan said the strategy is to form a partnership with MaineHealth and its affiliates that will lower rates by 12%.
"The rate concessions that we're getting from the hospitals are going to the consumer in the form of more affordable premiums," said Dugan. "So it's really all about us being able to work with hospitals that are willing to lower their rates to enable us to give lower premiums to those customers who choose us."
But critics of the plan take a different view Chuck Gill is a spokesman for Central Maine Health Care.
"What we're talking about is a company, two monopolies in Portland, telling people living in Bridgton, Lovell, Andover and Sweden, all these Central and Western Maine towns, We don't really care what you think, we're going to tell you where you have to get your care," said Gill.
He said come October first, however, consumers will have another option to turn to...and that's Maine Community Health Options. It's a new insurance co-op, who will also offer individual insurance plans on the online marketplace, and CEO Kevin Lewis said his company's plans will include every hospital in the state.
"We're pleased to be coming into the market with very competitive rates," Lewis said.
The Maine Bureau of Insurance has yet to make a decision on whether Anthem will be allowed to discontinue its current coverage on the individual market in favor of the new plans. A final public hearing is scheduled for September 9th in Augusta.
Photo by Patty Wight.
Maine State Government Affordable Care Act Information
Federal Government Affordable Care Act Information