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Maine Republicans to drown Dirigo

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November 17, 2010

AUGUSTA, Maine: Maine was one of two states (Wisconsin, the other) to completely change partisan hands (Governor, Senate, and House) in this year's mid-term election. This election marked the first time Republicans have held complete control in the state since 1962.

With most of the healthcare attention at the federal level, Maine's legislature may be one of hte first state's in the new session to address the issue at a state level. The new legislature has been addressing the state healthcare plan, called, "Dirigo," which was instituted by the Maine legislature in 2003. After its passage, Dirigo was meant to serve as a model for a federal approach to nationalizing health care.

A product of now former Maine governor John Baldacci's (D) administration, Dirigo was expected to cover as many as 180,000 of 1.2 million Mainers by 2009.

Disagreements abound concerning just how many Mainers are actually covered currently under Dirigo. Governor-elect Paul LePage (R) states that Dirigo has only covered 3,400 Mainers, and has cost the state nearly $160 million. Former Governor John Baldacci thinks otherwise, claiming that nearly 32,000 Mainers are currently covered.

The new governor's stance, plus a funding issue, has contributed to bringing its status to the forefront of items on the legislative agenda. Dirigo is currently funded 50 percent by "savings offset payment" from private insurance companies, insurance premiums, the federal government and tobacco settlements.[1] Representative Wesley Richardson (R), the ranking Republican on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, said the 2.4 percent fee amounts to "a tax on doctors’ bills. "They can dress it up any way they want," he said, "but the fact remains that they are taxing health care by some people to pay for health care for other people..."[2]

On his campaign website, LePage listed three healthcare action plans.

  • First, LePage plans to repeal and replace Dirigo.
  • Second, he plans to expand private health care options by allowing Maine families and businesses to purchase coverage plans available in other New England states, adding up to a dozen new options for coverage in Maine.
  • Third, he plans to "expand private health care options, and eliminate junk lawsuits that drive premiums higher." LePage believes tort reform will lower insurance premiums and health care costs so doctors can focus more on the health and wellness of Maine patients.[3]

There are 20 states that have sued the federal government in response to the health care act. But Maine might become one of the first states to take action at the legislative level.

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