Dirigo Health = Maine’s Health

DirigoChoice covers: 15,400 people — 2,300 businesses

Governor Baldacci with Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic gold medalist, kicking off the pedometer program.

By Ramona du Houx

Back when Governor Baldacci was a U.S. congressman he cosponsored a bill that would have authorized coverage for periodic health examinations under Medicare. These yearly exams prevent illnesses and deaths. They go a long way to keeping people healthy, but most insurance policies don’t cover them. When John Baldacci became governor, a priority of his was to create a health-care system for all of Maine. Affordable quality health insurance is now available with Dirigo Health, and yearly physicals are a part of the insurance package.

When the governor has a good idea, he doesn’t let it go. He finds a way to make it happen.

Preventative care is a major focus of the Dirigo Health. The governor has committed time and resources to communities across the state, promoting preventative health-care measures.

"I believe that’s how you make lifestyle changes," said Governor Baldacci. "To prevent health problems and create healthier communities, Maine’s citizens must be encouraged to stay physically active and to keep a healthy diet. Since coming into office in 2003 it has been my goal to see Maine become the healthiest state in the nation."

Last April the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, Health and Wellness won the Gold Star Award for Council of the Year from the National Association on Health and Fitness.

"This council has worked hard to educate Maine citizens about their health through exercise and information programs and by providing necessary resources for disease prevention," said Baldacci.

The award is given to a state council that has shown exceptional leadership, program development, and is actively promoting health and fitness. Each year, the state chosen becomes a model for other states.

Under Maine’s council various programs have been created to help Mainers become healthier. The pedometer program, Maine in Motion, is a prime example. Launched in the autumn of 2004 the pedometer program promotes walking for fitness. Participants set goals to walk more and more each day, ultimately to take 10,000 steps per day. The governor and his cabinet participated in the pedometer program. Schools and local businesses throughout the state have taken part, reporting weight loss combined with increased muscle strength for participants. "It’s been a tremendous success," said Dr. Erik Steele, head of the council.

This July the state was awarded a $93,000 grant from the National Governors’ Association to develop and implement a worksite wellness program for small businesses.

"One of the best ways to promote the health and wellness of Maine people is to do it in the workplace. A priority of my administration is helping Maine businesses — of which 96 percent are small and micro establishments — gain access to quality health care. We’ve made great strides with Dirigo Health to increase access to coverage, and this wellness program will improve on what we’ve accomplished so far."

The governor believes the people of Maine deserve a quality affordable health-care system, not only for our health but for the health of Maine’s economy.

Personal incomes are on the rise in Maine, but many people have been stymied by the continual increase of health insurance costs. However, businesses with DirigoChoice are praising the fact that it is saving them money in comparison to their previous insurance coverage.

For the first time, many of the 2,300 businesses with DirigoChoice can finally afford to insure their workers.

"It’s been easier to hire new people. We don’t have to worry about the cost of expanding the crew with Dirigo, which makes it easier to take on bigger jobs," said co-owner and bookkeeper Judy Robbins of Steppingstones Home Builders. "We were able to cover seven people in 2006 for about what it used to cost to cover four people. We’re really pleased with the cost and the fact that we can offer it to more employees."

"We believe in hard work," said Jean Castonguay, owner of an excavation business. "It’s a family business and I want to do what’s right for my family and employees. The cost savings have been significant, as well as what the program offers. We’re getting more bang for our buck."

Not only does Dirigo Health help save customers costs, it saves Maine’s health-care system funds.

In July the Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Alessandro Iuppa declared that there were $34.3 million in savings, this year, attributed to Dirigo Health.

"This independent assessment by the Bureau of Insurance attests that Dirigo Health is working," said Governor Baldacci. "In two years, Dirigo has saved the health-care system more than $78 million."

The governor stressed the importance of bringing health-care savings to Maine so that all Maine people have access to affordable health care.

"We are working with Anthem to develop a lower cost product to meet the needs of more hard working Maine families," said the governor. "Additionally, I created the Blue Ribbon Commission to build on the foundation of Dirigo. The commission will propose options to ensure Dirigo can continue to reach more of Maine’s uninsured and underinsured. Maine is one of seven states in the country that saw a decrease in the rate of uninsured."

"As long as Governor Baldacci remains governor, we will move Dirigo forward," stated Joe Ditre, a member of the Commission and former director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care.

The governor said he will continue to fight for affordable, quality health care for all Maine people.