Friday August 02, 2013 | 08:29 AM

Staff writer Joe Lawlor has a story out today about the proposed rates that Mainers would pay under the new federal insurance exchanges.

Thanks to recent state legislation, insurers are allowed to vary their rates based on geography across four regions, based on insurance companies' assessments of how health care risks and costs vary by geography in Maine. As you can see in this Press Herald graphic by Michael Fisher, they intend to do so:

But here's something interesting: while working on our recent special section "The Challenge of Our Age," I'd seen a similar map, in the Muskie School's publication "Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities: Population and Service Use Trends in Maine 2010" [download the PDF]. Here's Figure 2-1 from that report:

Remember that correlation does not imply causation, but there's clearly a strong correlation between insurance rates and the percentage of seniors in Maine counties.

There are many reasons why that may be the case besides the simple fact that rural counties tend to be older. In Lawlor's first story on this subject (published yesterday), Kevin Lewis, the CEO of Maine Community Health Options, points out that in takes longer for patients to get to hospitals in rural areas, "which not only puts the patient at greater risk, but often makes the care more costly." I can think of several other factors that may be in play here — such as the difficulty of attracting skilled doctors to work in rural parts of the state.

But whatever the causes may be, the these two charts illustrate that health care costs are going to be highest in precisely those areas of the state where senior health care needs are likely to be the greatest.

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I'm an economics wonk and an online content producer for the Portland Press Herald.

You can get in touch with me by emailing cmilneil [at] mainetoday.com, or by calling 791-6307, or by following @vigorousnorth. Also check out my business and economics list on Twitter.

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