Last year, Republicans in Maine made a promise. They said that if we just give the health insurance companies what they want and get rid of those pesky regulations and protections for people in Maine’s insurance market, then premiums would go down.

They designed a bill, L.D. 1333, to do just that: Gone were protections stopping them from raising rates on the middle-age folks, the elderly and people living in rural Maine. Gone too was the process of reviewing rate increases and holding public hearings.

In their place, Republicans added a new $4 per month tax on everyone in Maine who has insurance, with the money raised going to the insurance companies.

Removing these regulations “will lower prices for younger people, not raise them for older people,” declared the Republican’s lead spokesman on health insurance, Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, as the law was being pushed through.

“Lower rates for all” declared a headline at the time on an opinion piece by Joel Allumbaugh, a lobbyist who works for groups funded by insurance companies. He one-upped McKane by claiming that the law “has the potential to lower rates for all age groups,” not just the young and the healthy.

Allumbaugh was a board member and is now a staff person for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the conservative interest group that helped to write the legislation, alongside insurance company lobbyists.


The Bangor Daily News dubbed the effort to push the bill through the Legislature as “a lesson in how not to lead.”

GOP representatives walking a gauntlet of protesters to vote on the bill admitted on video that they hadn’t read the legislation and didn’t understand it.

Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, was so ashamed by the conduct of his party that he submitted his resignation — temporarily. The bill passed anyway, on a mostly party-line vote.

More than a year later, most of the effects of the legislation are now in place. So how is it doing? Has it lived up to Republicans’ promises? Not in the slightest.

In fact, it’s been a disaster, especially devastating to one of the most important parts of Maine’s community and economy: our small businesses.

A recent report by Consumers for Affordable Health Care found that 90 percent of small businesses in Maine already have experienced a rate increase under the bill. Some of their rates have nearly doubled.


Things are even worse in Eastern, Western and Northern Maine, where more than 96 percent of businesses have seen their premiums increase.

One example is Reel Pizza, a well-known eatery and theater in Bar Harbor. Owner Lisa Burton saw her rates go up by more than 95 percent since the passage of the bill, an expense she’s barely been able to afford even with a high deductible.

For many small businesses, health insurance is already the greatest expense after salaries. Having rates go up so high so quickly can be ruinous.

Ken Schweikert, who used to own the Grasshopper Shop in Ellsworth, saw his rates raised by 78 percent to more than $1,600 per month. He had to cancel his coverage.

Even businesses in Southern and coastal Maine that were supposed to benefit more are experiencing the harsh consequences of this policy.

Walter Briggs, who owns a marketing firm in Bath, had to let an employee go when the insurance bill came back with a 67 percent increase this year. His deductible was already so high that he paid $10,000 out of his pocket last year for care.


So much for creating jobs. So much for “Lower rates for all.”

We shouldn’t blame the insurance companies for these increases, at least not alone. They are for-profit companies who saw the opportunity to increase their profits by raising rates and of course they took it (on top of the $22 million they’ll make on the new tax this year).

That’s simply the nature of our broken health care system.

The people we should blame are the ones who voted to give them that unfortunate opportunity: the representatives and senators who either didn’t understand or didn’t care about the consequences of this bill.

It’s likely that many of them are understanding things better now that they’re campaigning for re-election. You can spin a lot of things in politics, but it’s pretty hard to look in the eye a business owner who just saw his or her premiums go up by 40 percent, 60 percent or more and tell them you’ve lowered their rates.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes his own blog at and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email to

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