Collins, King seem split on Maine health plan as a national blueprint

Maine was all over NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Vice President Mike Pence talked up a state health care reform baked into Republicans’ Affordable Care Act replacement plan. But our U.S. senators seemed split on whether that’s a good thing.

After their last replacement plan was pulled in March for lack of support, Republican leaders have made changes to the bill aimed at winning backing from conservative members.

One of those changes is a “high-risk pool,” which requires insurers to identify higher-cost patients — such as those who have pre-existing conditions or are older — and put them into a special pool where insurance is partially subsidized by the federal government.

It was one of the key pieces of Maine’s 2011 Republican health care reform law that was quickly usurped after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That has made Maine’s law — which loosened regulations on the insurance industry — hard to evaluate ever since.

Impacts were uneven: An actuarial analysis for the state in late 2011 said the law reduced premiums for 80 percent of people in the first year, but for the older and more rural patients, premiums went up because of provisions allowing insurers to charge more according to age and geography.

The conservatives who helped pass the Maine law have hailed it as a success and pitched it as a national model, but health policy thinkers in the center and on the left don’t like high-risk pools.

On “Meet The Press,” Pence said Republicans are “basically borrowing an idea from the state of Maine” to subsidize plans so “it is affordable to those individuals” who are higher-risk.

But the Kaiser Family Foundation says the pools haven’t worked well in states because of high costs and the left-of-center Brookings Institution is also skeptical that the $15 billion over nine years earmarked in the Republican plan would be even close to enough to be effective.

In a joint interview following Pence, Maine U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King seemed split on this idea. Collins, a Republican, said “it did work well for two years.”

But King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said “I don’t think it’s a panacea and I don’t think it necessarily is an easy answer to the dilemma” of replacing the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people who have pre-existing conditions. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Eric Brakey endorsed by Rand Paul in his bid for U.S. Senate. Second-term Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, who is challenging independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, received a major endorsement Monday from libertarian-leaning Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. “Eric has a proven liberty-first resume,” said Paul in a written statement from the Brakey campaign. Paul said he will be “working hard” to ensure Brakey’s election, which seems only fair because Brakey was a leader of Maine presidential campaigns for both Rand Paul in 2016 and his father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, in 2012. — Christopher Cousins
  • The Maine Republican Party’s petition to eliminate the income tax expires tomorrow. Frustrated by decisions made by the Legislature, the Maine Republican Party in November 2015 launched a petition drive for a ballot question designed to incrementally eliminate the income tax. That started an 18-month clock ticking for the required 61,123 signatures to be submitted. That deadline is tomorrow, which means the petition would have to be submitted by the end of the day Tuesday, restarted or scuttled. The initiated legislation proposed a number of changes to social services programs and to lower the individual income tax to 4 percent by 2021 — with further reductions thereafter. — Christopher Cousins
  • Democrats’ ‘Opportunity Agenda’ tour to continue. Legislative Democrats have scheduled two more town hall meetings in Rumford and Thomaston to discuss their state budget priorities. The events are scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Rumford Falls Auditorium and 6 p.m. Wednesday at Watts Hall in Thomaston. House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash will join local officials at both events. The Democrats have already held 10 similar town halls all over Maine. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

Business under the dome begins today with the Revenue Forecasting Committee, which convenes to take a fresh look at projections for Maine’s economy and tax revenues for the next few years. It’s a fairly crucial milestone for lawmakers who are debating the biennial state budget bill. Though the forecast is subject to change if there are major fluctuations in the economy, the numbers announced today will give lawmakers a clearer picture of how much funding will come over the next two years to support spending in the state budget, tax cuts or deposits to the rainy day fund. You can listen in on that meeting by clicking here.

The House and Senate are off until Tuesday. It’s May and there’s a lot of work to do in the next six weeks or so but judging by the online legislative calendar, three-a-week House and Senate sessions aren’t starting yet, as they traditionally do around this time of year.

The committee schedule is deep. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, among other bills, will take testimony this morning on LD 1390, which would create a number of new requirements in murder and missing person investigations such the creation of a public website, a requirement that a press conference be held annually on the anniversary of the murder or missing person report; allows loved ones to work with an investigative journalism organization; and allows a family to take the investigation to a federal law enforcement agency after 10 years if the case is not solved by then.

  • The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will be introduced to a bill on what is a controversial topic for some: state workers retiring, taking their retirement pay and then going back to work as public school educators. Among other measures, the bill would eliminate the cap of 75 percent of compensation for the position the state employee is filling. This afternoon, the committee will take testimony on a bill that would allow firearms to be carried on public college and university campuses.
  • The Marine Resources Committee is taking testimony on several bill having to do with the aquaculture industry and the Taxation Committee could take votes on a number of bills that would produce tax cuts. The Health and Human Services Committee will consider bills that could reduce the price of prescription drugs and the Labor Committee is hearing testimony on a bill regarding work permits for minors under 16 years old.
  • The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has work sessions planned on a number of bills this morning involving large-scale mining in Maine. The committee gave a positive 12-1 recommendation last week to one of the more major ones. This afternoon, the committee will take testimony on what is sure to be a hot-button topic. LD 1453 would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules regulating hydraulic fracturing in a way that protects drinking water.
  • The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee could take a vote later this morning on a bill to require that presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose their federal income tax returns if they want to appear on Maine’s general election ballot.

There are many, many more bills on today’s docket, which you can see for yourself by clicking here. –– Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Prod a cow to jump over a fire and have sex outside (but probably not concurrently)

It’s May Day, and if you’re like me you’re aware of two things: That means it’s May 1 and you probably have some vague image triggering of some cute youngsters skipping around a pole, wrapping it with ribbons or something.

I have learned recently (like, 30 seconds ago) that this day is also called Beltane. This website suggests a number of celebratory measures involving flowers and poles and the Goatboy trying to seduce the Goddess of Spring only to have the Goddess as Crone block him. Hey, I just report this stuff. Tradition also urges us to have some sex outside.

In the good old days, some people celebrated Beltane by prodding cattle to jump over small fires “to protect them from disease,” but apparently not from being served up medium rare.

And I thought Christmas and Halloween traditions were weird. Happy May Day, and here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.