Phil Bartlett, Maine State Senate District Six  

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Legislators Announce Bill to Maximize Quality and Minimize Costs to Health Care

April 3, 2007

Senator Philip Bartlett, D-Cumberland County, and Representative John Brautigam, D-Falmouth, announced legislation at a news conference at the State House today with enthusiastic support from a growing alliance of businesses, unions, consumers, health care providers, and legislators who want action to control costs and improve quality of care in Maine.

The legislation (L.R. 1867) called “An Act to Protect Consumers From Rising Health Care Costs” establishes the Maine Health Care Cost Commission to study lower rising health care costs, improve quality of care, and to provide Maine individuals and businesses with useful information in making health care and coverage decisions. The legislation, which has not been printed yet, has a growing list of co-sponsors.

"The ability of Maine families to take responsibility for their health care needs is being eroded by escalating costs and a lack of accountability in our health care system," said Sen. Bartlett. “In the face of a crisis, we have a responsibility to take action to protect the health of our families and communities. It is for those reasons that I have proposed legislation to take action to strengthen our health care system by maximizing quality and minimizing costs."

Rep. Brautigam, the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Maine House, said, “There is no true competitive market to hold down health care costs; no regulatory system to limit price increases; and confusion even among hospitals and providers over the role of competition and the scope of permissible information sharing. In short, there is nothing to moderate the exploding cost of health care. The rising cost of health care is the greatest threat to our economic development in Maine . Schools, businesses and of course families and individuals, are suffering under the burden.”

Hilary Schneider, an economist and Director of Programs and Policy at Consumers for Affordable Health Care said, “Between 1999 and 2004, health expenditures have increased by almost 10% each year in Maine, compared to an average annual growth rate of just under 8% for both New England and the U.S. Just to give you a sense of the magnitude of these increases – a 10% annual increase in spending over the roughly $8 Billion spent in 2004 would be an additional $800 Million in spending. That would be about $615 for every man, woman, and child in Maine or almost $1,500 per household. These growth rates are simply not sustainable for Maine families and businesses. If our wages were rising that rapidly, we may not be having this news conference. But, unfortunately, that is not the case.”

Kim Moody, Executive Director of the Disability Rights Center said, “Dirigo Health is the model used by two Republican Governors (Governor Romney of Massachusetts and Governor Douglass of Vermont ) to expand access to universal coverage. Now, four more governors, Governors Schwarzenegger (CA), Rendell (PA), Spitzer (NY), and Corzine (NJ), have all proposed coverage on a sliding scale basis based on Maine ’s Dirigo Health Program. Dirigo’s groundbreaking approach offers full mental health parity to our friends, families and neighbors. Many of them had no coverage or were underinsured. But all of our incredible work is being eroded. The greatest threat to these important public policy efforts is the skyrocketing cost of medical care here in Maine . If left uncontained, these medical costs that far outpace both inflation and wage growth, will devour all of our best intentions and innovations.”

David White, a small business owner from Bar Harbor said, “I own a small business on Mount Desert Island . The health insurance premiums I pay for my employees and their families doubled between 2001 and 2003. That woke me up to our health care crisis. We do not need to spend more money for health care. We need more health care for our money.”

“All the stakeholders – employers, insurance carriers, hospitals and individuals -- will be asked to share in the responsibility to solve this problem. I expect that all are eager to begin that work,” said Representative Brautigam, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Maine House.

Speakers who spoke at the conference or were available by phone included Brent Churchill, President, Employee Benefits Design, Inc., a Fort Fairfield firm that represents large businesses in the management of their health care costs; Duane Lugdon, International Representative of the United Steelworkers Union that represents thousands of employees and their dependents at Fraser Paper in Northern Maine; Dr. Louis Hanson, a family practitioner at MMC; David White, Owner, MDI Imported Auto Services, Bar Harbor, Maine, a small business owner affected by the high costs of health care and serves on the Maine Quality Forum; Kim Moody, Executive Director of the Disability Rights Center, Maine’s protection and advocacy program for people with disabilities; and Hilary Schneider, Director of Programs and Policy, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine’s largest consumer health coalition.