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  • Maine Republicans threaten smokers’ health care access

    LD 135 aimed to cap surcharges that put insurance out of reach, particularly in rural Maine

     The House on Tuesday failed to override the veto of a measure that helps tobacco users maintain their health care coverage as Republicans sided with the governor on a bill they previously supported.  The vote of 83-64 fell short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto.

    LD 135, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, would have capped tobacco use surcharges at 20 percent for individual and small group health plans. Tobacco users can end up paying several hundred dollars more on the health insurance exchange than non-smokers, especially when surcharges can be as high as 49 percent, as is the case with one carrier.

    “Plain and simple, these surcharges don’t get smokers to quit. They do, however, put health coverage out of reach for many Mainers – especially in rural Maine where consumers already face higher health insurance costs,” said Sanborn, a retired family physician who served on the Health Exchange Advisory Commission. “A 45-year-old non-smoker in Cumberland County, for example, has a monthly premium of $246 while a 45-year-old smoker in Hancock County would have to pay $568. Tobacco users lose access to cessation treatment and they and their families lose the security of health care coverage. Those of us with health insurance end up paying for this through higher insurance premiums.”

    Tobacco use causes 2,400 deaths and costs $647 million in lost productivity and $811 million in health care costs in Maine each year.

    LD 135 won the unanimous approval of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee after the addition of a compromise amendment.  The bill was previously approved in both the House and Senate by unanimous consent.