The number of Mainers without health insurance has increased a fraction of a percentage point from 2004 to 2005 – statistics the Census Bureau calls insignificant but ones Republicans are using to say the governor’s Dirigo Health initiative isn’t working.

“The U.S. Census Bureau statistics clearly reveal that the current policies are not only failing to insure more Mainers, but are actually driving more people from the insured roles,” said Tarren Bragdon, director of health reform initiatives for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center based in Portland.

Those statistics show the number of uninsured Mainers went from 130,000 to 141,000, or 12.3 percent of the population under age 65 in 2005 versus 11.6 percent in 2004.

The Census Bureau warns Maine’s numbers and those for more than 35 other states were “not statistically significant,” on a state-by-state basis, and should be viewed in the aggregate.

Republicans argue they at least should put a stop to Gov. John Baldacci’s claims that things have gotten better under the Dirigo Health insurance program his administration instituted in 2005.

That insurance program, known as DirigoChoice, is an Anthem policy subsidized by the state for individuals making less than 300 percent of poverty or $28,700 for an individual and $56,550 for a family of four. The plan had around 10,700 people enrolled in it at last count. Baldacci also adds in more than 5,000 parents enrolled in traditional Medicaid, whose state share of that federally subsidized program is being paid with Dirigo Health money.

Dr. Wendy Wolf, head of the Maine Health Access Foundation, Maine’s largest nonprofit health care foundation, said the larger issue nationally is the drop in employee-based insurance.

“I don’t think it says anything one way or the other about Dirigo,” she said of the numbers, but rather highlights a national problem and that is “middle-class people are worried about losing their health care coverage.”

“States are struggling to do what they can,” she said, citing DirigoChoice as an example, but, “The federal government isn’t proposing any real substantive solution, and that’s a national shame.”

Nationally, the Census shows the number of uninsured increased by 1.3 million from 2004 to 2005, or from 15.6 percent of the entire population to 15.9 percent. While employee-based health insurance dropped from 59.8 percent of the population to 59.5 percent, there was no increase in the Medicaid roles, either in actual numbers or percentage covered.

“The fall in employer-sponsored coverage has not been offset in the increase in public coverage,” she said, particularly for Medicaid, which is public assistance for poor people under 65. When people hit 65 they are eligible for Medicare, regardless of their income.

While the Census warns that breaking the numbers down to the state level is statistically shaky in all but 11 states nationally, the statistics show Maine was at best stagnant over the last two years in terms of the number of uninsured.

After the Maine Heritage Policy Center released its analysis, the Republican leaders in the Legislature jumped on the bandwagon, saying roughly one Mainer in every eight doesn’t have health coverage.

“It is time to deal with reality, because this has become a very serious problem,” said Rep. Josh Tardy, assistant leader of the House Republicans. “For too long, the current administration has pretended that Dirigo Health is a viable way to cover the uninsured. It is now clear that Dirigo is a costly failure that needs major reform.”

Republicans reiterated their call for reform of the health insurance industry in Maine, saying legislated mandates have driven competition out of the state and driven up costs.

“When one company controls 90 percent of the market, there’s no competition,” said Sen. Carol Weston of Waldo County, the assistant minority leader in the Senate. “But what’s even worse, these mandates have driven insurance costs for everyone through the roof.”

Baldacci continues to make Dirigo an issue in his re-election campaign, announcing on Friday the federal government had certified DirigoChoice as an insurance plan for purposes of federal Health Coverage Tax Credits. The program is open to qualified employees who were laid off from their manufacturing jobs due to foreign trade and are eligible to receive trade readjustment assistance.

Under the program, the federal government provides a 65 percent tax credit for qualified workers and their families for insurance premiums.

“The federal government’s certification of DirigoChoice will increase access to affordable health insurance for those in Maine who have been laid off through no fault of their own,” said Baldacci.


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