Former House Minority Leader Joe Bruno of Raymond will lead the advisory committee that will establish Maine’s Health Insurance Exchange, Gov. Paul LePage announced last week. Most of the other nine members are lobbyists or executives with health insurance companies.

The federal Affordable Care Act requires states to establish the exchanges, which are marketplaces that will offer health care plans for individuals, some of whom are eligible for federal subsidies.

Like other Republicans, Bruno opposed the Affordable Care Act — derided by Republicans as “Obamacare” — but he said the committee will focus on implementing the law.

“The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and now it’s up to us to make it work, and that is what we are trying to do,” Bruno said.

While the federal law gives the state the option of defining the benefit package that insurance companies must offer, Maine will likely accept the offers of all insurance companies, Bruno said.

“Open it up to all insurance agencies, tell us what you offer for insurance, what plan you provide and what rate,” he said.

Bruno, who owns a chain of pharmacies in Maine, served five terms in the House and was minority leader from 2000 to 2004. LePage appointed him this winter as chairman of the Dirigo Health Agency board of trustees. Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, appointed him to the board in 2008.

Other members of the Advisory Committee on Maine’s Health Insurance are Dan McCormack, CEO of Intermed; Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association; Kristine Ossenfort, a lobbyist for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield; Daniel Bernier, a lobbyist for the Maine Insurance Agents Association; Joel Allumbaugh, who works on health care reform issues for the Maine Heritage Policy Center; Jamie Bissonette Lewey, chair of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission; Edward Kane, vice president for Maine, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; and David Clough, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Maine.

Bruno said the committee will make recommendations to the Legislature, which will make the final decision about how the exchange will operate. Although the committee is supposed to finish its work by Sept. 1, he said, he will ask the Legislature for an extension of a couple of weeks.

Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, who serves on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee, said all of the committee’s members are qualified, but he wishes the committee had at least one person who represents consumers.

Bruno said the committee needs people with technical knowledge about the industry, and consumers can have input during the legislative process.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that Bissonette Lewey serves a dual role on the committee, representing not only the perspective of Maine’s Indian tribes but also that of health care consumers. Lewey is an ordinary Maine resident and a consumer of heath care, Bennett explained.
 
‘THE BLOGS’

LePage doesn’t appear to hold blogs in very high regard.

In mid-March, the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to promoting government transparency, issued an open letter to governors.

The letter was distributed to highlight examples of state leaders “rolling back” transparency legislation and “clouding the ability of the public to see what their elected officials are up to,” according to its text.

One example was the executive order LePage issued in early March to create a business advisory council that would be exempt from Maine’s public access law. After a public outcry, LePage never formed the group.

On July 28, LePage sent a letter to the foundation, taking issue with its example.

“Your open letter to Governors suggest that I do not support government transparency,” he wrote, according to a copy of the document posted by the Sunlight Foundation last week. “For the record, I do not have nor ever had a business advisory committee. Some of you folks read too many blogs.”

LePage also disparaged blogs during a recent exchange with members of the media.

“Those who write print have been totally dishonest, totally unwilling to do your jobs,” he said, “and you spend too much time on the blogs.”

SIGNATURES GATHERED, GROUP SAYS

Activists working to overturn the law passed in June to eliminate Election Day voter registration say they have collected enough signatures to put the issue before voters this fall.

Protect Maine Votes, the coalition created to organize the effort, will deliver petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office today, according to a press release.

For the referendum to move forward, the Secretary of State’s Office must certify that there are at least 57,277 valid signatures on the petitions.

Volunteers have been soliciting support from Maine voters since July 7.

“We have received an incredible outpouring of support from volunteers and voters in Maine,” said Mark Gray, the campaign manager for Protect Maine Votes, in the release.

‘SO 19TH CENTURY’

Senate Secretary Joe Carleton will convene the first meeting of the Bill Processing Task Force in the coming weeks to try to figure out if there’s a better, and more accurate, way of sending bills back and forth between the House and Senate.

“It’s a rather long process and it involves physically carrying the bills back and forth,” he said. “When I first heard that, I thought, ‘Isn’t it quaint? It sounds so 19th century.’“

But now that he’s seen the process in action through the legislative session, he’s wondering if there isn’t a better way to do business. He’s convening bill stampers, calendar clerks and others to see what suggestions they might make to improve the process.

“I have a feeling that a comprehensive look at the way we do our business probably has not been done for a long time,” he said.

Carleton, a lawyer, took over as Senate secretary in December when Republicans assumed control of the Senate.

LEAVING WOMEN’S LOBBY

Sarah Standiford, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, announced last week she is leaving the group to take a job with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Standiford, who took over at the women’s lobby in 2003, is a Richmond resident. During her tenure, the lobby grew from two staff members to six, and worked to expand protection for victims of domestic violence and raise the minimum wage, according to a press release from the group.

The lobby will now search nationwide for a new executive director.

‘PENNY POLL’ RESULTS

Code Pink and Bring Our War $$ Home recently conducted a “penny poll” in all of Maine’s 16 counties.

In response to the question, “How would you like your federal tax dollars spent?” 1,552 Mainers dropped pennies into various buckets to express their opinions, according to the groups. The top choices were education (21 percent), health care (19 percent) and veterans’ benefits (12 percent).

Not surprisingly, the groups used the results to back their belief that the federal government spends too much money on defense.

“Congress is out of touch with the priorities of most people in this country,” said Lisa Savage, Code Pink’s Maine Local Coordinator. “It’s time to stop pouring tax revenues into making weapons manufacturers even richer than they already are.”

PURCHASING AWARD

Maine’s Division of Purchases recently received the national Achievement of Excellence in Purchasing Award from the National Purchasing Institute.

Led by Betty Lamoreau, acting director of the Bureau of General Services, the Maine division placed in the top 10 percent of all government agencies. It handles $900 million each year as it buys heating oil, police cruisers and office supplies and negotiates other contracts.

Lamoreau, who has been on the hot seat recently for the sale of property in Thomaston to the state prison warden, was praised by Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Sawin Millett for her work in the purchasing division.

“Efficient and cost-effective purchasing is critical to managing taxpayers’ money wisely during tough economic times,” Millett said in a press release.

MaineToday Media State House Writers Rebekah Metzler and Tom Bell contributed to this column.