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Fear of Facts

Maine legislative committee votes down study update on health care costs
By Joe Lendvai

Augusta, February 16, 2011

On February 16th, the state legislature’s committee on Insurance and Financial Services held a working session to “mark up” LD 57, a bill proposed by Representative Beaudoin, to update a 2002 study on the feasibility of universal, single payer health care in Maine. This meeting followed a hearing by committee the previous week where six witnesses spoke in support of the bill -- none opposed -- stating that current information about actual health care costs would be not only helpful for planning, but essential to any decisions relating to state-wide initiatives, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit initiated by Maine Attorney General William J. Schneider against implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Maine AllCare board members Karen Foster and Dr. Phil Caper attended the committee's working session. At the beginning of the meeting, Representative Sharon Treat proposed an amendment that would have reduced the requested amount of state funding from $5,700.00 to zero, utilizing part of a $1 million federal grant under ACA that has already been allocated to Maine.

Representative Beaudoin, prime sponsor of the bill, then made an impassioned plea for support, reminding the committee that it would be a step toward helping a lot of low to middle income Mainers who would face financial crises if they incurred even moderate medical costs.  She then went on to remind them that they were here to serve their constituents, and that this study was a very modest first step in that direction—at no cost to the state.  She pointed out that Vermont was well on its way to a system such as the one she would like to see studied.

A motion to approve the study failed by a 7 to 6 straight party-line vote; all six Democrats were in favor, while all seven Republicans voted against the proposed bill. No one on the committee offered any justification for their negative vote. One wonders what is there to fear about having reliable, up-to-date information on health care costs here in Maine?