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For Immediate Release

Date: 05/05/11

Health insurance reform clears initial hurdle in Maine House

AUGUSTA - Landmark legislation to revamp Maine's health insurance market cleared a critical hurdle today in the House of Representatives by a vote of 76-72. The measure, designed to generate more competition and bring rates closer to national norms, now moves to the Senate. Final enactment votes in both bodies could come as early as next week.

"The people of our state are the winners today," said House Speaker Robert Nutting. "For years, reasonable proposals to fix a dysfunctional health insurance system have faltered in the Legislature. Today we have taken a giant step towards making health insurance more affordable for Maine residents and employers."

Rep. Wes Richardson, the sponsor of the bill, LD 1333, said the plan ensures protection for those residents most vulnerable to unaffordable health coverage - the elderly and the chronically ill. "Through the Guaranteed Access Plan, no Mainer can be denied coverage," he said.

Rep. Richardson (R-Warren) is House chair of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, which worked the bill. He noted that the legislation allows carriers to offer a more diverse array of insurance products to fit a variety of personal and business budgets. Overall, he said, increased competition and more affordability in coverage options will enable young and healthy people to buy insurance policies, thereby expanding the pool and lowering costs across the board.

The bill allows individuals to purchase health insurance from companies licensed in other states. Specifically, it permits carriers authorized to sell insurance in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island to offer their individual policies for sale in Maine. Mainers have repeatedly voiced strong support for opening insurance markets across state lines. Rates elsewhere, such as in New Hampshire, are significantly lower than in Maine. That aspect of the plan would begin in 2014.

On the business side, companies with fewer than 50 employees would be allowed to band together to create larger insurance pools. By distributing risk over a larger number of employees, rates would be expected to decline. For companies with 20 or fewer employees, the plan also creates a tax credit if they maintain wellness programs. The credit would range from $100 per employee to a maximum of $2,000.

The Guaranteed Access Plan is a reinsurance program patterned on a successful program in Idaho, a state with demographics similar to Maine's. The chronically ill and individuals with pre-existing conditions would choose from the same insurance plans as everyone else. To make sure their out-of-pocket premiums remain affordable, the state will provide subsidies from the reinsurance fund, financed by a monthly assessment of $4 on all privately insured Mainers.

This plan has been crafted to be in sync with the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the event the law survives court challenges. If the ACA is struck down, the plan provides a structure that lowers costs, expands choices and moves Maine into the American mainstream. In short, the initiative creates certainty for Mainers regardless of the fate of the federal health care reform law. ###

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445