Maine Weighs Expansion of Dirigo

February 9, 2006

The Baldacci administration and board chairman of the Dirigo Health Agency that the Maine governor has championed recently urged a legislative panel to expand the authority of the agency board.

A bill brought before the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee could enable the board “to develop new models to better serve the uninsured and continue to provide an affordable, quality comprehensive health benefit for Maine’s small businesses, sole proprietors and families,” said Dr. Robert McAfee, the Dirigo board chairman.

In his State of the State address on Jan. 18, Baldacci held open a door for revamping the Dirigo insurance plan that is aimed at guaranteeing universal access to health care.

McAfee, in his prepared testimony to the committee Tuesday, said the board is looking to reach more of the state’s uninsured and to develop more inexpensive alternatives to what has been marketed by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine to date.

“While we have been pleased to have Anthem as our partner and were delighted that they responded to our initial requests for proposals, we want to be sure that when that contract expires next Dec. 31 that we assure the Legislature, DirigoChoice enrollees and all the people of Maine that every available option will be considered to grow the program for the future,” McAfee said.

Spokeswoman Katie Fullam Harris submitted testimony telling the committee that Anthem found the legislation too broad.

“We believe that the balance achieved by requiring legislative approval of the Dirigo board’s proposal of an alternative approach to Dirigo is very important. This bill would eliminate that important ‘check’ in the system and allow a volunteer board to adopt major and substantive policy for the state without prior approval,” Fullam Harris said in prepared remarks.

Prior to the committee hearing, the Maine People’s Alliance held a news conference questioning Anthem’s commitment to marketing DirigoChoice insurance.

Suggesting an unscientific survey raised concerns, alliance spokeswoman Jenny Rottmann said “the state needs the assurance that the agency selling DirigoChoice truly stands behind the program. … Thousands more Mainers could benefit from the DirigoChoice program and they deserve the chance to enroll.” __

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