As someone who grew up in Waterville, I’ve seen the impact of rising health care costs.

As insurance rates increase, businesses are forced to close or cut coverage, and more families have to go without access to a doctor. The Legislature pledged to fix the health care system, but unfortunately, the laws recently passed in Augusta only have made this problem worse.

Since the new law was enacted last year, insurance rates have been rising across Maine for middle-class families and small businesses. A recent report by a nonpartisan health care policy group reveals that rates have increased for more than 90 percent of small businesses in central Maine. The rate increases often have been 20 percent or more.

What happened?

New laws stripped away important consumer protections that prevented insurance companies from charging higher rates to people in central Maine than those in southern Maine.

A new law also made it easier for insurance companies to charge higher premiums to people who worked in the woods or on a roof or older Mainers just because of their age.

The law even gave insurance companies the ability to raise rates up to 10 percent per year without requiring a review.

Republicans said these insurance protections were driving up costs and that removing them and giving insurance companies more “freedom” would lower rates for everyone.

The actual result?

If you’re healthy, young and living in southern Maine, there’s a good chance your insurance rates have gone down. If you’re a 50-year-old small-business owner trying to pay the bills in downtown Waterville or Oakland, you’re probably paying more, or had to switch to plan with a higher deductible.

When the Legislature debated this law last year, my Democratic colleagues and I warned that these changes could hurt many Mainers.

I offered several common-sense amendments designed to prevent some of the very issues that are now driving up people’s premiums.

My amendments included market reforms, but leveraged federal subsidies to alleviate any premium increases. Unfortunately, these compromise amendments were voted down by partisan votes.

No matter what, we need to be creative about health insurance policy. No party has a monopoly on good ideas. We need to move from a fee-for-service system, invest in public health, support the use of brokers and agents, reward quality outcomes and increase access to primary care.

People are struggling. Proponents of this law ask for more time, but middle-class families are just trying to stay where they are, and more and more people feel like they can’t get ahead anymore.

The Legislature needs to get its priorities straight. We need to work together to find common-sense solutions that help all Maine people.

Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, serves on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee. He is being challenged for re-election to represent House District 76 by Republican Mark Andre, of Oakland.

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