Majority of Senate Democrats demand more protections for consumers and uninsured
AUGUSTA—The State Senate voted 24 – 10 largely along party lines in favor of enacting the Republican-led health care overhaul bill, LD 1333.
“After listening to days of debate, the Republicans would have you believing this is the panacea for the 133,000 people without health care,” said Senator Joe Brannigan, Chair of IFS. “We’ve also been told that we can purchase insurance across state lines. But what they’ve neglected to tell us is that it’s illegal to buy insurance across state lines until 2014. And this bill guarantees nothing for the uninsured. If anything, it will increase costs for people living outside of urban centers and people over the age of 48.”
The Senate began debating this issue last week when Republican leadership, in an unprecedented move, “ramrodded” the 45-page bill through the Insurance and Financial Services (IFS) committee without time for fiscal analysis or a review by the Bureau of Insurance. Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins of Saco agreed that health care issues need to be addressed but noted, “There is no reason for us to rush this through. No actuarial analysis has been done and without that we cannot know we are doing the best we can do for the people of Maine.”
“I would support a bill for health care change if I could be guaranteed there were protections in place for rural Mainers,” said Senator John Patrick of Rumford. “Instead of facts, I’m hearing about ‘intentions’. Well what I know is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and that’s not a good enough reason to vote for this.”
Many Senate Democrats cited several issues as “deal breakers”. Most contentiously debated were provisions that left room for insurance carriers to determine policy coverage and health care costs based on age, geography, and occupation. People over the age of 48 living in rural areas of the state will face higher health care costs and been mandated to travel to urban centers for health care.
“This bill pits the north against the south, the rich against the poor, the young against the old, and white collar against blue collar,” said Senator Phil Bartlett of Gorham. “After having the weekend to review more details of the bills, I learned that an insurer can now raise rates higher than before the amendment. This is the problem with making legislation on the fly. We don’t have time to check the facts.”
The bill as written and voted upon levies a tax on all insured Maine people but exempts lawmakers and state workers. Senator Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth submitted an amendment that would have removed the exemption for legislators, however, the Republican majority voted the measure down.
Senator Margaret Craven of Lewiston discussed LD 1333 with a similar measure that was passed in Idaho in 2001. In a conversation with the AARP in Idaho, Sen. Craven noted that the AARP was perplexed that Idaho’s model would be held as a standard for inspiration. Quoting her conversation with the Director of the Idaho AARP she said, “Idahoans have more people uninsured and paying more for their premiums now than in 2001”. Sen. Craven urged the Senate, “We need to be looking at outcomes, not just models.”
The bill which takes away regulation by the Superintendent of Insurance and allows unfettered ability to make operate without consumer protection. The bill will now go to Governor LePage’s desk to be enacted.
“This is a $36 million tax on the people of Maine. Given the Governor’s pledge of vetoing any new taxes, I expect a quick veto of LD 1333,” said Sen. Alfond.