AUGUSTA — A legislative committee held hearings Thursday on a stack of bills from Democrats that would alter portions of the Republican-championed state health care reforms passed in 2011.

Most of the seven proposals considered by the Insurance and Financial Services Committee deal with insurance rate review, particularly the state’s ability to accept or reject rate increases for individual and small-group health insurance policies.

Before the Republican-backed law took effect, Maine regulators could reject any increase or decrease. Since the first day of this legislative session, Democrats have said that instituting that review process is one of their top priorities. Many of the proposals before the committee would do so.

Under current law, an insurer can raise rates without state approval if the increase is less than 10 percent and the company is paying 80 percent of its money from premiums toward care and quality improvement. The law also allows companies to charge different rates based on age and geographic location.

A report prepared in 2011 for the Maine Bureau of Insurance suggested that the law would have mixed effects.

For example, 80 percent of individuals would see rates go down and 20 percent would see them go up — mostly elderly residents in rural areas.

Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, and Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, have proposed changing geographic provisions in the law.

“We should not penalize rural Mainers by charging them higher rates for their health insurance, and this measure will ensure they are charged the same rates as their urban counterparts,” Gratwick said in a prepared statement Thursday.

But Democrats have drawn opposition from Republicans including Gov. Paul LePage, whose insurance commissioner, Eric Cioppa, testified against the seven bills on Thursday, saying frequent rate-review hearings were onerous.

“Democrats would like to bring the insurance regulatory process back to the dog-and-pony show it once was, but I think the more thoughtful approach established by (the new law) has proven more effective,” said House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, in a prepared statement.

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 620-7015 or at:
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On Twitter: @mikeshepherdme