1,476 business owners, doctors say insurance overhaul will drive up costs, hurt rural Maine

AUGUSTA –Democratic lawmakers from the Maine Senate and House convened today to urge Republicans to reconsider a measure to overhaul Maine’s health care law prior to votes on the bill, LD 1333, by the House and Senate scheduled for Tuesday. The lawmakers called for further study of the plan and outlined alternatives to the measure including the creation of a Maine-based insurance exchange that would lower costs for Maine families and small businesses.

“Maine people want Democrats and Republicans to work together to find common ground to help lower health costs for all Maine people – not just a few at the expense of the many,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the Insurance Committee. “Unfortunately, in the rush to pass LD 1333, the Republican majority is creating obstacles to better coverage and reduced costs, especially in rural Maine”

Treat said any insurance reform should include an insurance exchange, which creates a marketplace that allows small businesses and individuals to band together to purchase insurance. The Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hold a public hearing on Treat’s bill to establish such a health insurance exchange on Tuesday.

“Rather than dovetail reforms in the marketplace with the insurance exchange and the significant premium subsidies available through the federal Affordable Care Act, the rushed Republican plan will hike premiums for many, leading to dropped coverage.”

Nate Libby, the director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, said that as of ten o’clock this morning he had received an unprecedented response from more than 1,476 small business owners expressing their concern for-and-opposition-to LD 1333.

“Legislation similar to LD 1333 has failed in other states,” said Libby. “Not long ago, New Hampshire voted to support a similar practice and within two years, they repealed it because it was hurting so many companies. Small businesses need a plan that allows us to band together to improve our purchasing power, not undermine our bottom lines.”

In response to a formal request for information and analysis from Democrats on the Insurance Committee, the Bureau provided analysis from 2007 on a similar but less drastic plan, showing increases of up to 22 percent in the North and in Down East Maine.

Maine people who want to keep their current insurance will likely see price increases rise as high as 170 percent, according to the data from the Bureau.

Dr. Richard DeCarolis, a primary care doctor from Bethel, noted the drastic impact the bill will have on access to health care and other harmful effects on rural Maine. “This bill will lead to a loss of insurance coverage, which means less care and more sick people,” said Dr. DeCarolis.

The Republican proposal also allows for purchases of insurance across state lines without ensuring that consumer protections are in place first, and eliminates the state health plan.

“Voting on LD 1333 at this point would be negligent to the people we serve,” said Senator Margaret Craven of Lewiston. “Republicans seems intent on making sure the people of Maine go without health care. The Governor’s new budget strips health care coverage from 35,000 people, all of whom are the poorest of the poor, many are veterans or mentally ill.”

Rep. Henry Beck of Waterville, who offered an amendment on LD 1333 when the House voted on it last week, said “House Democrats proposed a bold amendment to allow market reforms within federal law. It’s more fair to rural Maine and provides protections for consumers in a reinsurance pool. Importantly, our plans require study and further public hearings on any insurance tax.”

Republicans in the Maine House voted the compromise amendment down in the first vote on the measure last week. The proposal faces further votes in the House and Senate this week.

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