Maine Universal Health Bill Set to Become Law

June 16, 2003 ( - The state of Maine may prove to be a national testing ground for a universal health plan with a bill passed out of the state legislature to make available affordable health care to every Maine citizen by 2009.

A spokesman for Maine Governor John Baldacci, the plan’s top backer, said Baldacci would likely sign the bill into law next week, according to a Reuters news report. The plan would create a state-sponsored agency, Dirigo Health, to offer health insurance beginning July 1, 2004.

Dirigo Health will try to sign up 31,000 Maine citizens during its first year and will provide coverage access for at least another estimated 110,000 individuals by 2009. Coverage will be offered through private health insurance carriers to provide a comprehensive package of benefits and the new agency will pay providers at private insurance market rates.

With health care shaping up to be a major issue in the 2004 presidential campaign, the Maine reforms may be a test case for similar overhauls nationwide, some analysts say. Some 40 million Americans do not have health insurance.

Dick Cauchi, health analyst at the National Conference of State Legislators, told Reuters that at least a dozen states are considering legislation that would grant universal health care coverage or create a single payer system to cover the uninsured. But he said the Maine legislation goes farther than any other state level proposal and is the first poised to become law. “Certainly, states will be looking closely at it (the Maine plan) to the extent they are able to get it off the ground,” Cauchi said.