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Maine governor proposes health care reforms


AUGUSTA, Maine--Seeking to expand the state's 2003 health care access law, Maine Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday he is preparing new legislation to move the state closer to universal coverage.

Among changes Gov. Baldacci will propose are imposing a fee on employers that don't offer coverage to employees and requiring individuals with incomes of at least 400% of the federal poverty level to have health insurance coverage.

Other changes to be proposed include requiring insurers to discount premiums for employers that offer wellness programs, imposing a 2% surcharge on hospital bills to help fund coverage for the uninsured and making coverage more affordable for small employers that buy policies through a state purchasing pool.

Gov. Baldacci's proposal comes nearly four years after Maine passed legislation--viewed as groundbreaking at the time--to expand health insurance coverage. The heart of the 2003 law is a state program--known as Dirigo Health--through which small employers and individuals can obtain health insurance, with Maine subsidizing premiums of lower-income individuals.

But the program, which currently provides coverage to just over 13,000 state residents, has made only a small impact in reducing the state's uninsured rate, which now is about 10% of the population.Gov. Baldacci says he is proud of what Dirigo Health has accomplished, adding, though, that "now is the time to take the next step...We will make sure quality health care is available for everyone."