The positive healthcare results of Dirigo Health Care transition with the Affordable Health Care Act

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

December 29th, 2013 

January 1, 2014 marks the launch of health insurance under Obamacare but also the end of coverage under the Dirigo Health Agency, Maine’s health care reform. Republican Gov. Paul LePage, campaigned on dismantling the Dirigo Health Care Reform, that has saved lives, by eliminating it’s funding.

Most of the 7,400 or so Mainers still covered by the Dirigo Health Care Act’s insurance arm, Dirigo Choice, will find plans either through Medicaid or the insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

“Dirigo staff was very helpful,” said Neily Sandra Neily, a self-employed Greenville resident and Dirigo Choice user. “They let me know in plenty of time that the program would end.”

Dirigo Choice insured more than 40,000 Mainers and became a model for President Obama’s ACA.

Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

“In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance.

Both health care reform Acts have been:

• preventing coverage denials for pre-existing conditions;
• extending the time young adults can be on their parents insurance plans;
• reducing the ranks of the uninsured or underinsured;
• encouraging preventive care;
• expanding coverage for maternity care and mental health;
• controlling ballooning medical costs;
• and getting young people into the insurance pool.

Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

However the Maine Heritage Policy Center launched a nonstop campaign against the Dirigo Health Care Reform Act and undermined the program’s funding strategy, and then criticized the low enrollment. Ideological differences about government’s role in health care stagnated progress.