What does health care reform mean for Maine?

6:47 PM, Mar 23, 2010   |    comments
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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The health care needs and concerns of Mainers are too varied and individualized to spell out exactly what the health care reform bill will do for each person, but there is no question the bill signed into law by President Obama will have an impact in every corner of the country.

"A lot of people my age, I'm 25, they are getting out of college, they are looking for a job and they can't find one," said Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People's Alliance, a group that has been advocating for improved health care access.  Tipping says the new law will provide help to one of the biggest blocks of uninsured people in the country.

"Under this bill immediately, people that are up to the age of 26 can stay on their parents insurance plans, making it cheaper for them, making sure they get that health coverage," said Tipping.  He estimates 100,000 Mainers age 26 and under will gain access to coverage.

"The number one thing small business owners talk about is getting affordable, quality health care," stated Melanie Collins, who owns and operates a daycare in her home.  She has lobbied for increased assistance for small business owners to help them provide coverage for their employees.  She thinks the tax breaks included in the legislation will be good for competition in Maine's health insurance market.

"It should lower costs for everybody," said Collins.  "As more people are insured, and more people are helped, it should slow down the growth of the costs."  Currently she is unable to provide health care insurance for her employee, but says these changes should allow her to do so.

Some provisions of the new law will not have a direct impact on the state.  Maine already has laws on the books that prevent health insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions and the state does not allow lifetime caps on health coverage.  Some people do think having all the states playing on the same level will make Maine more attractive to companies that do not provide coverage here.

"This bill takes some important steps towards moving away from a fee for service system that incentivizes the volume of health care services - we pay for volume - to one in which we are paying for quality and value of health care," said Katie Fullam Harris, senior director of government and employer relations at Maine Health.  "Health insurance is expensive and this takes some important steps forward in addressing the costs as well."

Maine Health operates seven hospitals in southern and mid-coast Maine, along with a wide variety of other health-related entities such as labs and physicians groups.  They have felt the effects of the down economy and are concerned about how the new law will be paid for.  According to Harris, the plan calls for Medicare reimbursement to hospitals to be cut by $150 billion over the next ten years.

"We as a hospital system are going to feel those cuts over the next ten years," said Harris.  "That is of grave concern.  Medicare doesn't pay the costs of services for those who are on Medicare at this point in time."  Harris says Maine is the 49th lowest reimbursed state and has a high number of patients who receive Medicare or Medicaid assistance. 

"That is an expensive proposition and it is one that we are hopeful that this bill will address through insuring that more people have access to health insurance," said Harris.  "It is neither going to be as bad as some people are framing it or as wonderful as other people are framing it, but there is no question that it is a very important step in the history of the United States."


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