Watching Maine, The Other Big New England Health Insurance Reform Experiment


The momentous move toward a single-payer system in Vermont gets most of the attention, but let us not forget another major experiment in health insurance reform now under way in New England: Maine’s move in the opposite direction, toward a looser health insurance market.

Thanks to Josh Archambault, director of health care policy at the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank, for pointing out today’s update on Maine’s moves in the Morning Sentinel here. From that report, it sounds like people still disagree on the effects of the path Maine has chosen, but all agree that the status quo could not stand. (Hmmm. Sounds a lot like Massachusetts.)

Here’s how MaineToday Media state house writer Susan M. Cover sums up the Maine changes:

Dr. Wendy Wolf, chief executive officer of the Maine Health Access Foundation, laid the groundwork for the forum by talking about L.D. 1333, a law passed with mostly Republican support in May.

“This law represents one of the most significant changes in health insurance since the 1990s,” Wolf said.

The law takes steps to ease regulations in the health insurance system. It allows Mainers to buy insurance across state lines, gives insurance companies flexibility in setting rates for people based on age, whether they smoke, and where they live. It also creates a “high risk pool” for people who use a lot of health care services.

To pay for those in the pool, everyone in the state with private coverage will pay as much as a $4 monthly assessment, which could go as high as $6. The $4 assessment would generate $25 million a year to support the reinsurance pool, said Eric Cioppa, acting superintendent of the state Bureau of Insurance.

Cioppa said the reforms are designed to help people who buy health insurance on their own or through employers whose companies have 50 or fewer workers. Combined, they represent about 135,000 Mainers. Also, there are an estimated 100,000 Mainers without health insurance, he said.

Josh Archambault of the Pioneer Institute comments:

Those tracking state-level health care policy experiments should keep an eye on Maine, where reforms are making insurance more affordable for the small businesses employees and young adults who make up the bulk of the state’s 100,000 uninsured citizens.

The health care marketplaces in Massachusetts and Maine are very different, but the federal health reform regulations largely ignore the fact that each state should be allowed to craft reforms that meet its unique needs.

Maine’s experiment should draw local attention as Massachusetts struggles to retain recent graduates and foster an economy built on the back of innovative small companies.

One thing’s for certain: the talk about this new Maine variant on health insurance reform is heating up to the point that Mainers are losing some of that laconic thing they’re known for. Susan’s piece is followed by a dozen contentious comments, ending with this one: “We already have healthcare rationing. It’s done by the for-profit insurance corporations.”

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