Critical Condition

Learning from Maine

( – Last November, Maine voters resoundingly rejected a tax on soda-pop, flavored water, and alcoholic beverages as a way to pay for the state’s health care program, which includes a government-funded health care option that competes with private insurers.


The program, called Dirigo Health Agency, which includes DirigoChoice, was established in 2003, making Maine the first state this decade to implement a universal-coverage health care plan. Now both supporters and opponents of the plan say that national lessons can be learned from Maine. 


The program passed on the promise that it would pay for itself in savings and cover the uninsured. However, it only insured about 36 percent of the previously uninsured, and 64 percent of those in the program left their private insurer for the public option, according to the 2008 annual report.


Meanwhile, the state’s taxpayers have spent $154.8 million to keep the program operating, premiums have increased, and the average subsidy cost is $300 per person per month.

The Maine Legislature recently approved a tax on paid health care claims that lawmakers say will generate $38 million to help pay for the costs of the program. 


A “public option” to compete with private insurance companies is a central component of the health care package being promoted by President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats.


The difference is that the Maine plan was created by the state government but is administered by private insurance. The public option proposed by the Democrats in Congress does not contract the administration out to a private company.

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