Maine GOP Candidate Unveils Health Ideas; Calls for Dirigo Suspension

March 27, 2006

When it comes to health care, Mainers must stop thinking Augusta knows best, Chandler Woodcock said Friday as he campaigned for the Republican nomination for governor.

Unveiling his health care plan for the state, Woodcock called for reforms that make the health insurance market more competitive so more insurers will come to Maine. He prescribed less government regulation, more promotion of wellness programs and a big dose of Medicaid reform.

“We must stop thinking that Augusta knows best,” said Woodcock. “Maine people are smart, thrifty and varied. It is time government recognized that in how it regulates our health care system.”

In a reference to the Dirigo Health program Democratic Gov. John Baldacci has championed, Woodcock said it’s wrong to fund expanded government programs by taxing health insurance, saying, “You don’t tax something to make it more affordable.”

Dirigo, a step toward universal health insurance access, gets a big part of its funding from payments from insurers based on savings in the health care system. The so-called savings offset payments are a burning issue in the Legislature.

Without calling for Dirigo’s elimination, Woodcock said the program should be suspended and re-examined.

A three-term state senator, Woodcock said he favors a change in state insurance laws that would allow small businesses to get breaks on their health premiums if they institute wellness programs and have lower claims.

Woodcock also took issue with state regulations which he said prohibit a variety of health insurance plans tailored to the unique needs of various populations.

He called for controls on Medicaid, saying current growth is “unsustainable and outpaces funding.” As a result, he said, the state has cut rates to providers and now owes the hospitals more than $300 million in past due Medicaid bills.

“We would not allow a private insurance company to not pay claims and we must not tolerate Medicaid doing the same,” said Woodcock. “As governor, I will ensure Medicaid pays its bills and fix this problem once and for all.”

Woodcock’s health plan also calls for more steps through public education to promote healthy lifestyles.

Woodcock faces fellow Sen. Peter Mills of Cornville and former congressman David Emery of St. George in the GOP primary race.

Mills has labeled the Dirigo program as financially unsustainable, and advocates limiting its enrollment to people who’ve been without insurance for at least a half year and introducing a voucher system.

Emery has called Dirigo “an expensive failure” and says regulations surrounding it have driven most providers from the Maine individual insurance market, resulting in high consumer costs. Emery proposes elimination of some mandated benefits, allowing interstate insurance sales and other innovations such as health savings accounts.

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