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Maine's health reforms deserve second chance


When Maine passed health care reform legislation in 2003, we described it as an experiment well worth watching.

Four years later, it is fair to conclude that the experiment has been less than a rousing success. For example, enrollment in a state program in which premiums are subsidized for lower-income employees working for small businesses, as well as for individuals, is far less than initial projections.

Meanwhile, employers complain that the law--intended to move Maine closer to universal health care coverage--has done nothing to reduce the high cost of health insurance, which employers attribute, in part, to onerous rules insurers have to follow to do business in the state and inadequate Medicaid provider reimbursement rates, which results in providers inflating charges for other buyers of health care services.

Now Gov. John Baldacci, who spearheaded the 2003 reform drive, says it is time to revamp the law. We couldn't agree more. If there has been no meaningful reduction in the number of uninsured residents since the 2003 legislation was enacted, clearly the law's chief objective has not been met.

We would hope this time around state legislators do a better job of not just creating a new insurance plan and subsidizing some of the cost, but also that they take the necessary steps to make sure the plan is affordable and attractive for employers to offer to all their employees.

And clearly, Maine officials, if they are serious about true reform, have to make the state one that attracts health insurers to the market.

But it would be wrong to be totally negative on Maine's initial reform effort. There is no question that Maine's action has been a catalyst for other states--most notably Massachusetts and Vermont--to attempt even greater reforms that we think will vastly reduce the number of uninsured.