By Senator Troy Jackson and Representatives John Martin and Ken Theriault
June 6, 2011
As lawmakers representing the people of Aroostook County, we have a shared understanding about the ways of the County. We appreciate a close sense of community. As neighbors, we don't hesitate to come together in times of need or celebrate each others' milestones. Living in Maine really is a way of life. And living in rural Maine is especially unique. We also know that the idea of “two Maines” is very much a reality. And most of the time, we think we've chosen the right place to be.
However, it's a hard pill to swallow when the GOP continues leading efforts to pass legislation making it increasingly difficult to live and work in rural Maine. It's hard to understand—regardless of party affiliation—why even the very people who are from our neck of the woods would support legislation that goes against the very people who are our neighbors. And unfortunately it's not an isolated incident. There are a myriad of examples of this administration and the GOP supporting legislation that is anti-rural Maine. Earlier this session, Republicans pushed for a law that favored Canadian workers over Maine loggers. Also, the Governor's proposed and GOP backed budget, eliminates a practice of sharing state revenues with local towns. But nothing has been so unabashedly anti-rural Maine as the discussion (lack thereof) and passage of LD 1333, the health care overhaul bill, which was recently signed in to law by Governor LePage.
The reckless insurance overhaul will hurt rural people, rural doctors and hospitals, and rural health. The new bill repeals a law that prohibits insurance companies from forcing policy holders to travel long distances for cheaper care, effectively making it more expensive for patients in Fort Kent to go to their local doctor. Isn’t it bad enough being sick?
Insurance companies will now be able to “encourage” patients to travel to Portland for care by waiving or reducing their co-pay. If, for whatever reason, you choose to stick closer to home to see a family doctor, insurance companies could choose to pay less of your bill and make you pay more. That’s just not fair.
As a result our local, smaller hospitals would lose out to larger hospitals to the south.
Worse, under the new law, insurance companies can charge you more based on your age, where you line, and what kind of job you have. They are now allowed to charge three to five times as much to people over the age of 48. There is no limit on how much they can charge to people in “hazardous” occupations. Many jobs integral to the rural Maine economy would easily fall in to this “hazardous” occupation category.
According to the Maine Center for Economic policy, individual policy holders in Aroostook County will see an increase of 19% and a 17% increase for group policies. Unfortunately, many people currently covered by their employers may be dropped because businesses will no longer be able to afford to cover them. In fact nearly every segment of Maine’s population will see increases.
While Republicans and the governor pledged not to raise taxes that is exactly what they did with this bill. The new law creates $24 million in new taxes on all Mainers who currently have coverage, with the exception of legislators, who were exempted from the new tax. Worse, they’ve given the insurance industry carte blanche over the funds, which will be used to fund a re-insurance –or risk pool. If the fund does not generate enough money to pay for all the high risk users, insurance executives may have the authority to increase the tax or cut benefits with no oversight from lawmakers.
During the House and Senate debates we repeatedly warned all legislators, especially rural legislators, that these changes will mean increased costs and travel times for the people back home—the very people many of them serve. We also warned that one untended consequence may be the closure of rural hospitals and medical practices. Time and again, and despite our insistence, our pleas fell on deaf ears. We are very worried about the effect this new law will have on the health care of our constituents and the viability of small hospitals and health care facilities.
Who are the legislators who are marginalizing rural Maine? Every single Republican legislator from Aroostook County. Each of them voted for this bill that increases our premiums by one fifth and results in loss of coverage for thousands.
This bill is not good for anyone except for the insurance companies. It's certainly not good for patients. It's not good for health care providers or hospitals, It's not good for small or large businesses. And, it is certainly not good for Aroostook County. It benefits no one except insurance companies.
In places like Aroostook County we need lawmakers with strong voices who will protect and further our way of life. We certainly will not survive if our own elected officials pass legislation designed to increase insurance industry profits at the expense of the elderly, the hard working, and rural Mainers.
Senator Troy Jackson represents Senate District 35 which is all of Northern Aroostook County, Representative John Martin (D-Eagle Lake) represents House District 1 and Representative Ken Theriault (D-Madawaska) represents House District 2.