Republicans drag feet on health care bills
February 28, 2012
AUGUSTA – Two bills that would set up health insurance exchanges to help increase access to affordable health care in the state stalled today in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee after Republican lawmakers refused to vote on the issue for the second consecutive week.
Votes on the bills have been delayed since last year and the measures were carried over from the previous Legislative session.
“The Republicans must stop dragging their feet on health care,” said State Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland, who serves on the Insurance Committee and manages an Inn in Portland. “If we pass one of these bills, we can help lower the cost of health care for thousands of small businesses like mine across the state.”
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, health care exchanges are designed to help small businesses and individuals ban together to negotiate group rates for affordable quality health care.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tax credit calculator for the federal health reform law, a family of four in Maine earning the median income of $46,000 a year could get a tax credit of up to $10,000 a year. The credit would cover nearly 80 percent of the family’s total cost of health care for the year.
The federal law requires that states either establish their own health insurance exchange or residents of the state will be able to participate in a federal exchange by 2014.
“The Republicans shouldn’t be playing chicken with the federal government,” said Treat. “We need to take action on this now. The sooner we get started with planning our own exchange, the sooner Maine people will benefit.”
The committee was scheduled to consider two separate measures that would provide guidance on how to set up an exchange in Maine.
The state of Maine received a grant to assist it in pursuing options to get an exchange up and running. The state has received $36 million in federal funding under the Affordable Care Act, some of which is for designing the exchange.
“The state has already accepted some of the money,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, who serves as the lead House Democrat on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. “The best way to lower health care costs across the board is by quickly bringing the exchange to Maine and expanding access to preventative care. A trip to the primary care doctor is much less costly than the emergency room.”
Treat is the sponsor of one of the bills, LD 1498, which would establish a consumer and business friendly model for the exchange.
The Republicans on the committee refused to vote on Treat’s bill and another that would have set up the structure for the state-run exchange. The committee did not set a date for the next meeting to discuss these bills.
Jodi Quintero [Treat, Morrison] 287-1488, c. 841-6279