Bills to prevent unchecked health insurance rates rejected, while measure to repeal health care coverage for hearing aids and pap smears advances
March 8, 2012
AUGUSTA – Democratic lawmakers in the Maine House today fought two measures that could make health insurance in Maine more expensive and less comprehensive.
The Republican majority voted down a measure that would prevent unchecked rate hikes of 10 percent or less by health insurance companies, while advancing a measure that will undo laws that require insurance companies to cover health care services like hearing aids for children and pap smear screenings for women.
In contentious floor debates over the measures, Democrats argued the actions by Republicans put insurance company profits before struggling middle class families and preventative health care for Maine women and children.
Rep. Anne Graham, D- North Yarmouth, a pediatric nurse practitioner, said one bill would effectively repeal requirements that insurance companies cover inexpensive preventative tests.
“Two tests that are in Maine’s health insurance coverage are for prostate cancer screening and pap smears,” said Graham. “It is inexpensive and it saves lives.”
In response, Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, stood up in the House chamber to ask why a 20 year old should have to pay for women to get pap smears.
The comment stunned Democratic lawmakers, who said the comment was in line with the national Republican push to roll back health care for women.
During the floor debate, Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell said the bill would also have the effect of repealing basic health coverage such as some cancer drugs, services for autistic children up to age 5, hearing aids for children up to age 18 or medical supplies for diabetes. Treat is the lead House Democrat on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
The bill directs the state to adopt the federal “essential benefits package” once the Affordable Care Act goes into effect on Jan. 1 2014, repealing Maine’s strong insurance requirements and instead adopting a potentially “bare bones” federal plan.
Democrats argued the Affordable Care Act was designed to improve health care and shouldn’t be used to move the state backwards. Republicans countered that they would like the state to do “as little as possible” to help Maine people get care.
In a separate split partisan vote, Republicans voted down a measure that would prevent unchecked rate hikes by insurance companies. The bill, LD 1179, which would fix a law passed last year that allows insurance companies to increase rates up to 10 percent without prior review by the Maine Bureau of Insurance.
“Working families are suffering, while insurers are jacking up rates on Maine people,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, who sponsored the bill.
Goode cited a recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that unanimously upheld a decision by the former Superintendent of Insurance Mila Kaufman to reject a 9.2 percent Anthem health insurance premium rate hike as “excessive and unfairly discriminatory” and to allow a lesser increase of 5.2 percent, which the court found adequately compensated the insurance company.
Kaufman’s decision saved Maine policyholders over $3 million.
The two bills now go to the state Senate for further votes.
Listen to Rep. Lance Harvell's floor speech.
Jodi Quintero [Treat, Goode, Graham] 287-1488, c. 841-6279