AUGUSTA – A state task force on health care reform met Tuesday, hoping to learn how Maine businesses will be affected by the recently passed federal law.

Instead, members were told the impact is nearly as unclear as it was in March, when the law was passed.

“This is a comprehensive piece of legislation that will have some intended consequences and unintended consequences,” said John Dorrer, information and research director for the Maine Department of Labor.

Nearly 37,000 small businesses might qualify for tax credits if they pay for employees’ health coverage, according to data from a 2004 business survey. Dorrer said the state plans another survey soon, but he couldn’t provide any new or more detailed information about the possible costs and benefits of the reforms.

Legislators on the task force, which was formed in April by Gov. John Baldacci, said they wanted more data and a more coordinated effort among state agencies to help small businesses and nonprofits understand the opportunities and challenges in the new law.

“People will be making decisions right now on some of these things, and people are having trouble getting information,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second for the task force, which is set to meet three more times before issuing a final report and recommendations later this year.

Members said they hope to help the next governor and Legislature steer through federal reforms that will be phased in over the next several years. The state will need to modify laws and rules to implement the federal law, for example.

The task force also hopes to help state agencies, employers and citizens understand the reforms and take advantage of incentives such as the employer tax credits.

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” said Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland.

The task force also heard from state officials about the effects of health care reform on Medicare and Medicaid, or MaineCare.

Trish Riley of the Governor’s Office of Health Policy told the task force that an analysis of the law’s impact on MaineCare showed potential savings of nearly $203 million over the next decade, when all aspects of the law are taken into account.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]