Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter is a health insurance industry whistleblower and author of 'Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans'

October 6th, 2011 12:51 PM

Health insurers win big in Maine

A dismal state of affairs; Mainers face higher premiums with fewer protections

Augusta, Maine — Almost 3,200 miles separate Sacramento and Augusta, but the gulf between those two state capitals actually seems much greater when measuring the comparative trust that political leaders there have placed in health insurance companies.  

This week and next, I will provide a glimpse into the contrasting approaches the two states are taking to their health care systems, especially as those approaches relate to health insurance.

We’ll start by looking at what the Republican-controlled state government in Maine has done to dramatically affect the cost of health coverage for the state’s 1.3 million residents. Next week, I’ll share the perspective of California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat who made it clear during his campaign last year that he will be tough on insurers as he seeks to protect the interests of the state’s 37 million residents.

Golden State voters last year elected a Democrat, Jerry Brown, to succeed Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor, and kept Democrats in control of both chambers of the legislature. Maine voters did exactly the opposite; Democrats lost control of both the House and Senate, and Republican Paul LePage was elected governor by slightly more than 10,000 votes in a field of five candidates.

It would be hard to find a state where the investment in campaign contributions by the insurance industry has paid better dividends than in Maine. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, for instance, gave $7,500 last year to the Republican Party or party committees, and contributed an undisclosed amount to LePage’s transition efforts. By the time the governor and legislators were sworn in earlier this year, the insurance industry must have had its wish list ready and its lobbyists poised to begin drafting industry-friendly legislation for lawmakers to introduce.

The insurers hit the jackpot in the spring when the industry’s legislative allies rushed a bill through—which LePage quickly signed—that will indeed reform the state’s health insurance marketplace—exactly the way insurers want. In many ways, it is taking the state in the opposite direction of the consumer protections enacted as part of the health reform legislation that Congress passed last year. The state law took effect last month. In anticipation of the law becoming effective, insurers prepared new rate quotes that enabled them to increase premiums—in many cases dramatically—for policies that renewed Oct. 1.

The industry’s lobbyists must have been pinching themselves that they were able to get everything they wanted to ensure their employers will reap handsome profits over the next few years. In addition, the state’s insurers are in firm control of a committee the governor appointed to advise lawmakers on how to set up the state exchange, or insurance marketplace, required by the federal law.

It’s hard to imagine what else they could have asked for that they didn’t get.

To give you an idea of just how quickly the industry’s bill made it to LePage’s desk compared to other important pieces of legislation, consider this: lawmakers passed the measure just a week and a half after the first public hearing on the bill. By contrast, the legislature devoted 48 days to the contentious debate over whether to call the whoopee pie the state’s official dessert or the state’s official treat. Seriously.

The fast-tracking of the insurance industry’s bill was ordered by legislative leaders so that consumer advocates would have virtually no time to amend or kill the bill, which with the stroke of LePages’s pen abolished consumer protections enacted over two decades of previous gubernatorial administrations.

Among other things, the legislation did away with hard-fought protections for rural families that had required insurers to have at least one doctor in their provider networks within 30 miles of where those families lived and at least one hospital within 60 miles. As a result, many families in the far northern reaches of the state will have to drive several hours to get to a doctor or hospital in their insurers’ networks.

The new law also allows insurers to charge older Maine residents far more than is allowable today. Given the fact that Maine has the country’s oldest population, that means skyrocketing premiums for a large percentage of the state’s residents.

Before the law was enacted, insurers could not charge older residents more than one and a half times as much as younger residents. Now they can charge them three times as much, which is the limit established in the federal reform law. The new Maine law will let insurers charge older residents five times as much if they can get around the federal law.

As a result, some small businesses with the older workers are already seeing their policies soar by 90 percent or more.

The new law also allows for the sale of out-of-state insurance policies from four of the five other New England states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island), which means that the Maine Bureau of Insurance will have no jurisdiction over those policies. Maine residents who buy those out-of-state policies will get no protection from Maine’s insurance regulators.

Finally, insurers in the state will no longer have to file for a rate review by state regulators unless their rate increases are 10 percent or more.

With all of these changes, there is no doubt insurers that do business in the state will be able to achieve profit margins never before even imagined. Regular Mainers, on the other hand, are not going to fare nearly as well.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles