Today’s Wall Street Journal reviews the results from Maine’s experiment with Obamacare:
In 2003, the state to great fanfare enacted its own version of universal health care. Democratic Governor John Baldacci signed the plan into law with a bevy of familiar promises. By 2009, it would cover all of Maine’s approximately 128,000 uninsured citizens. System-wide controls on hospital and physician costs would hold down insurance premiums. There would be no tax increases. The program was going to provide insurance for everyone and save businesses and patients money at the same time.
Here’s how the program was supposed to work. Two government programs would cover the uninsured. First the legislature greatly expanded MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Today Maine families with incomes of up to $44,000 a year are eligible; 22% of the population is now in Medicaid, roughly twice the national average.
Then the state created a “public option” known as DirigoChoice. (Dirigo is the state motto, meaning “I Lead.”) This plan would compete with private plans such as Blue Cross. To entice lower income Mainers to enroll, it offered taxpayer-subsidized premiums. The plan’s original funding source was $50 million of federal stimulus money the state got in 2003. Over time, the plan was to be “paid for by savings in the health-care system.” This is precisely the promise of ObamaCare. Maine saved by squeezing payments to hospitals and physicians.
The program flew off track fast. At its peak in 2006, only about 15,000 people had enrolled in the DirigoChoice program. That number has dropped to below 10,000, according to the state’s own reporting. About two-thirds of those who enrolled already had insurance, which they dropped in favor of the public option and its subsidies. Instead of 128,000 uninsured in the program today, the actual number is just 3,400. Despite the giant expansions in Maine’s Medicaid program and the new, subsidized public choice option, the number of uninsured in the state today is only slightly lower that in 2004 when the program began.
Why did this happen? Among the biggest reasons is a severe adverse selection problem: The sickest, most expensive patients crowded into DirigoChoice, unbalancing its insurance pool and raising costs. That made it unattractive for healthier and lower-risk enrollees. And as a result, few low-income Mainers have been able to afford the premiums, even at subsidized rates.
This problem was exacerbated because since the early 1990s Maine has required insurers to adhere to community rating and guaranteed issue, which requires that insurers cover anyone who applies, regardless of their health condition and at a uniform premium. These rules—which are in the Obama plan—have relentlessly driven up insurance costs in Maine, especially for healthy people.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center, which has tracked the plan closely, points out that largely because of these insurance rules, a healthy male in Maine who is 30 and single pays a monthly premium of $762 in the individual market; next door in New Hampshire he pays $222 a month. The Granite State doesn’t have community rating and guaranteed issue.
One proposal to get people into the DirigoChoice system is to reduce the premiums, presumably to give the uninsured a larger incentive to join. But that would explode the program’s costs when it already can’t pay its bills. A program that was supposed to save money by reducing health-care waste and inefficiencies has seen a 74% increase in premiums. But even those inflated payments can’t keep the program out of the red.
Exploding health care costs, bankrupt governments, and less consumer choice. That is what happened with the Obamacare approach in Maine, and Tennessee, and Hawaii. Why does the left insist on forcing the rest of the nation to repeat these same mistakes.