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health care

Ramming Through Insurance Deregulation

The new Portland Phoenix has my cover story on how Maine Republicans railroaded a massive overhaul of our health insurance regime through the State House, and the political fallout that's followed. The majority party sometimes slams a bill through the system faster than anyone can digest it, but rarely do these bills involve such genuine life-and-death issues as those affected by LD1333.

The Phoenix cover artists even created this insurance lobbyist/devil figure to illustrate the piece. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but you have to admit it's eye-catching.

For the policy wonks out there, I did take the time to photograph the testimony submitted for the original April 27 hearing, back when this was but a four-page bill. The points raised for and against the loosening of restrictions on charging higher premiums based on a customer's location, gender, age, or health status, may still be valid in regards to those components of the new law. You can find it here as a 37-megabyte PDF. (Why the legislature hasn't ordered that all committee testimony be scanned and posted online is beyond me.)

Vermont also overhauled their health insurance system last month. The difference: they're going to a single payer model. Will be interesting to see which approach results in the best outcomes for these respective state's people.

(Cross-posted from World Wide Woodard)

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Big Talk: Legislative Update

I was on as a guest on WMPG's Big Talk this week, hosted by Al Brewer, along with journalist and author Colin Woodard, who discussed his recent work investigating the DeCoster Bill.

We also dicussed the policy (terrible) and process (almost as terrible) of he health care insurance industry deregulation bill, as well as the push to repeal same-day voter registration, which will be debated in the coming week.

Colin had some great insights, as did Portland Representative Ben Chipman, who called in to the program to discuss the voting rights bill.

Download the program here and subscribe to the podcast here.


The Effects of LD 1333

L.D. 1333 would repeal many of Maine's basic health care consumer protections, allow out-of-state insurers to market policies in Maine without a way to enforce those policies and make sure claims are paid, undermine access to quality affordable health care for older Mainers, rural residents, people with pre-existing conditions and small businesses through significant rate hikes based on where you live or your age. Read this report by the independent Maine Economic Policy Center to find out more.

Rate increases.  LD 1333 promises a lot, but it can't deliver on its promises, and in the process a lot of people, especially in rural Maine, will lose the insurance they have because they simply won't be able to afford the price increases. Read more »

Maine Health Care Showdown Looms

In case you haven't heard, this morning the Maine House will vote on a proposal to roll back health insurance laws in Maine. The bill would allow insurance companies to charge more based on age and area of residence and to bypass regulations by setting up shop in another state with weaker protections and selling across state lines.

It will likely harm seniors, people with pre-existing conditions, small business owners, and people who live in parts of Maine with less access to health care.

I say likely because at this point, Maine people haven't actually seen the whole bill, much less been given time to understand it. These provisions were rammed through as an amendment on Friday, increasing the bill (LD 1333) from four to 29 pages without a public hearing. Then, more changes were made yesterday afternoon after it was discovered that portions of the bill violated federal law.

In fact, the only people that seem to know everything that's in the law at this point are the insurance companies and the right-wing Maine Heritage Policy Center, both of whom bill supporters admit had a hand in writing the legislation. Read more »

Bill Limiting Access to Birth Control Short-Sighted

LD 31, a bill designed in part to require parental approval for birth control pills to minors, is reactionary and short-sighted. It has clearly been designed by people lacking in experience working with minors, or an appreciation for data or science. Having worked, volunteered with, and educated hundreds of teenagers in the past decade, and having looked at scientific data that points to the ineffective nature of limiting young people's access to birth control with regard to curbing risky behavior, I can safely say that those in the anti-choice movement who are pretending that this bill serves any purpose beyond moving forward a radical agenda are wrong. This bill will hurt kids, not help them.

First, the facts. While it is satisfying to know that Maine has a staggeringly low teen pregnancy rate, this would likely change were this bill to pass. A study conducted by Dr. Madeline Zavodny in 2003 concluded that imposing parental consent requirements for contraceptives appears to raise the frequency of pregnancies and births among young women. Further, a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association two years later made the very same conclusion, adding that this would also lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases among teens. Read more »

Good for Big Pharma, Bad for Maine Seniors

Cuts to seniors' prescription drug help and GOP bills to repeal anti-fraud laws will hike medicine costs and lead to worse health outcomes.

It seems there is an all-out assault on prescription drug programs in Maine Governor LePage's budget as well as in bills pending before the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee. These proposals certainly will help the bottom line of large pharmaceutical concerns, but they harm over 40,000 seniors who rely on state assistance to purchase prescription drugs, and repeal important pricing protections for consumers and taxpayers.

Its hard to believe that legislators who campaigned for strong financial oversight and against waste would support repealing a law that bans kickbacks and requires rebates be passed through to consumers, but that's exactly what Maine bill LD 1116 would do. Another bill, LD 719,will limit doctor, patient, and government access to independent information on prescription drug effectiveness, costs, and money spent on drug advertising, and make it harder to audit drug company pricing information. Read more »

Bill Would Endanger Health of Maine Teens

We can all agree that open parent-to-child communication around health decisions is ideal. Unfortunately, for many families this is not the reality. There is no law we could pass, no policy we could implement that would create good communication between kids and their parents where it does not already exist. A teen may feel uncomfortable asking their parents for help with obtaining prescriptions for mental illness, substance abuse, or contraceptives. Unfortunately, for many teens, obtaining parental consent for necessary prescriptions is out of the question because of physical or sexual abuse, parental distance or differences of belief.

A bill before the legislature, LD 31, "An Act To Protect the Safety of Maine Children by Requiring the Express Consent of a Legal Guardian To Dispense Prescription Medication to a Minor" puts Maine teens at risk by eliminating their access to confidential health care.

What is most important here is making sure that teens can access the health services that they need. With research indicating that teens are more likely to access health care with a guarantee of confidentiality, it is clear that LD 31 would put the health of young Mainers in danger. Read more »

LePage's Plans to Deny Care

In the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel this week, I talk about Governor LePage's town hall event that I attended here in Westbrook last week, where the subject of health care arose several times, despite not being specifically listed as one of the event's approved topics.

On the front page of the same paper, you can read about LePage's trip to Washington, where his message was "Keep your money; give us flexibility."

Specifically, he wants the flexibility to reduce MaineCare eligibility. According to Maine Equal Justice Partners, his plan would make 14,000 Maine parents ineligible for MaineCare and lose the state more than $18 million in federal funds, more than twice what his cuts would save.

Here's a clip of Maggie's question and LePage's response:

Maine's Community Health Centers at Risk

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee's plan to cut more than $1 billion in federal funding to community health centers across the country would mean that more than 30,000 patients in Maine would lose access to care.

Maine is home to 19 community health centers, most of which are in rural areas and, in some cases, provide the only access to a local doctor.

The Rev. Bob Carlson, president of the Maine Primary Care Association (MPCA), says the loss of funding comes at a time when demand is at its highest for health-center services.

"Statewide, it would mean an implication of the loss of 3 million dollars out of the gate. We would have, in addition to that, a lost opportunity to provide access to care for a huge number of Maine people." Read more »

Pingree Highlights Latest Anthem Abuse

Reuters story here.