Letters to the Editor
Where in Maine?
Your February "Where in Maine?" photograph is of the popular Maine Winter Sports Center at Presque Isle in beautiful Aroostook County.
My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson enjoy skiing there.
—Janet Davis Kaszas
Maine's Insurance Mess
Great article in your February issue on Maine's insurance mess. My friends and I are amazed that your magazine is now doing what Maine's daily papers should have been doing all along. Thanks for doing the legwork to get a picture of how we got here. It is certainly not pretty.
—Richard and Nan Paradis
We appreciate your interest in reporting on the status of health-care reform in Maine. We believe your February report on DirigoHealth, however, was an inaccurate assessment of the initiative. Rather than provide any detailed information on the substance of DirigoHealth or its success, the article seemed to be politically motivated.
Briefly, DirigoHealth's success to date includes Maine's fastest-selling health-insurance product, providing coverage to more than 2,000 small businesses and 8,000 Maine people who were previously uninsured or underinsured. Maine's superintendent of insurance, after an independent and thorough review, ruled that DirigoHealth created $43.7 million in savings to Maine's health-care system last year. Dirigo is generating badly needed competition and savings in Maine's health-care market.
It's important to note that DirigoHealth is more than just a health-insurance product. It includes other initiatives aimed at improving the quality of health care in Maine, including a State Health Plan to identify strategies to improve the health of Maine people. Given the lack of any meaningful reform proposals from Washington, D.C., DirigoHealth is Maine's best shot at controlling rising health-care costs and reducing its number of uninsured.
Your story included political rhetoric frequently used by opponents to dismantle DirigoHealth. There is no evidence that eliminating the consumer protections described in your article would reduce the cost of health care in Maine. In fact, elimination of those protections would more likely force those who need health care to pay dramatically more. The story infers problems associated with community rating, which limits the ability of an insurer to charge above or below an average premium rate. It overlooks the fact that New Hampshire just reinstated stronger consumer protections under its community-rating law after small-business insurance rates skyrocketed following a weakening of the law. A study released last year by the Commonwealth Fund found stricter regulation makes an important difference in the affordability of health insurance, especially in the individual insurance market where costs are escalating across the country. The study goes on to say that older or sicker adults face a range of problems in states with weaker regulations, and that high-risk pools are not an adequate alternative to stricter regulation.
Maine is at the cutting edge in terms of providing a more affordable health-insurance product and savings in Maine's health-care system. Controlling costs is difficult — especially when huge insurance companies don't want to see any changes in their bottom line. Doing away with consumer protections would do little to control health-care costs in Maine and ultimately would only protect the financial interests of insurance companies. While not perfect, it is clear DirigoHealth has started the process of controlling costs and in creating more competition in Maine. We will make constructive changes to DirigoHealth, but will be diligent in focusing on initiatives proven successful at increasing access to health care while reducing costs — and DirigoHealth has done just that in Maine.
—Senator John Nutting, Androscoggin County
—Senator John Martin, Aroostook County
—Senator Arthur Mayo, Sagadahoc County
Editor's Note: It is a measure of the politicization of DirigoHealth and the defensiveness of its supporters that the senators feel they have to respond to an article that we didn't write. This article was not about DirigoHealth. It offered no judgment on DirigoHealth, either pro or con, nor has Down East ever written about DirigoHealth, except for a laudatory article in August 2003 following passage of the original legislation. The article we did write was essentially historical: how did we get here, how did we reach the point where Maine, and Maine alone, felt it necessary to take drastic action to solve its health-insurance problems? The fact that forty-nine other states — forty-eight of whom have lower health-insurance rates than Maine — have not seen a similar need is perhaps grist for another article. The fact that Maine reached that point first demands explanation.