WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck on Wednesday spoke against a state law passed last year that deregulated health insurance costs, saying that the law caused health care premiums for small businesses to spike.
“Over the past year, 93 percent of small business owners in central Maine have seen their health care premiums go up,” Heck said at 11 a.m. outside City Hall. “Some in the Waterville area have seen their rates hiked by more than 80 percent.”
Wednesday’s event was hosted by the Maine Small Business Coalition.
Heck, who co-owns a winery and distillery in Oakland, joined several people, including representatives from the Maine People’s Alliance, in urging voters to support candidates who oppose the deregulation, rate hikes and would work to repeal the law if elected.
Deborah Klane of Fairfield, a member of the Maine Small Business Coalition, said she co-owned a small health and safety consulting and training company with her husband, Jonathan, for 14 years, but in April, the business succumbed to the poor economy and her husband had to take a permanent job in Arizona.
During the Klanes’ nine years in business, there was a steady hike in their monthly insurance premium, capping out last year at $14,191 per year for them and their two children, Ian and Evan. Evan has profound special needs, she added.
“And now?” Klane said. “Our health insurance, fortunately, is covered by my husband’s employer, but he’s in Arizona, my younger son is off to college in Pennsylvania and Evan and I are here alone in Maine. This is what lack of affordable necessary health care insurance in Maine has done to this family.”
Heck urged people to support Senate District 25 candidate Colleen Lachowicz, a Democrat, over Sen. Thomas Martin, a Republican, because Martin supported the bill to deregulate health care and Lachowicz opposes it and would fight to repeal the law. Heck said she is a friend of Martin, but he “voted the wrong way” on the issue.
Contacted later Wednesday, Martin said the law makes health care more competitive and ultimately helps reduce costs.
“Competition is going to be key to getting our health care costs in line,” he said. “If you are bidding out your house insurance and you have two insurance companies or 10 insurance companies to choose from, are you going to get a better deal with just two or with 10? Chances are, 10’s going to be your answer.”
Martin also said the state Legislature passed an insurance reform bill in the 125th session and made adjustments in the last session and it takes time for the changes to materialize.
“I live inside the small business community,” he said. “I used to be a director at the (Mid-Maine) Chamber of Commerce and I’m in the (Waterville) Rotary Club and I attend the Sunshine Rotary Club on Thursday mornings sometimes. I have not heard any outcry from the business community on this.”
Martin said some business owners said their rates went down and some said they increased slightly, but none in the double digits.
But Mike Tipping, who represented the Maine People’s Alliance at the gathering outside City Hall, said insurance costs for some businesses have more than doubled as a result of the deregulation.
He said his organization works closely with the Maine Small Business Coalition — which represents more than 3,400 small business owners in Maine — on health care matters. Insurance companies are spending tens of thousands of dollars promoting candidates who support the deregulation, he said.
Before Wednesday’s event, Heck said people should talk to their legislators rather than battle with the insurance companies who raise rates. More people would leave their jobs and start businesses if they didn’t have to worry about health insurance cost, she said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247