Keeping healthy is part of the Dirgo Health program, a health care network using Medicare introduced by Gov. John Baldacci. Now covering thousands who never had health insurance before. Photo by Ramona du Houx


Oped Ramona du Houx

A statewide coalition that includes the Maine Medical Association, AARP, and the Maine ALF-CIO announced their opposition to Question 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot. Question 1 asks voters to repeal taxes on beer, wine, soda and other flavored drinks. The taxes were approved earlier this year by the Legislature and are designed to support the state’s Dirigo Health program.

“It is time for Maine voters to realize what Question 1 is really about,” said Gordon Smith of the Maine Medical Association. “This is about health coverage for Maine’s children and hard-working adults.”

Dr. Lani Graham, Maine’s former health director, says the Blue Ribbon Commission recommended targeting beer, wine, and soda, because of health problems associated with them. She says it’s fair to impose a tax that’ll ultimately lower healthcare costs by making sure more people have insurance.

Dirigo Health is generally not viewed as the answer to all the ills of heath care in Maine. The issue is demanding and too complex with regulations for any state to have all the answers. Heath care needs federal action.

Meanwhile DirigoChoice is a respected as an avenue that has been able to insure people who would not have healthcare coverage at all. There are individuals now covered with DirigoChoice who earn too much for federal assistance but not enough to cover themselves with other insurance programs. There are people who have had pervious medical conditions, who were denied coverage from other insurance plans and who now rely on DirigoChoice. There are businesses and their employees who are grateful for the reasonable rates. Without DirigoChoice, many businesses couldn’t afford to cover their workers.

There are over 18,000 people in Maine depending on DirigoChoice continuing. That is a sizable number, considering the low population of Maine. Some tell heartrending stories of how their lives have been saved because they had an annual checkup with DirigoChoice and serious conditions were discovered.

What is the value of a human life to the people of Maine? Is it worth an extra dime for a beverage at a restaurant? For most, the answer is yes: people in Maine care about their neighbors. Come November, let your vote say you care, too.

The United States Congress respects Dirigo Heath, and its chief architect, Trish Riley of the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, testified about the program last summer. She testified that the multifaceted initiative has succeeded in saving money, improving care and reducing the number of uninsured Maine residents. “When the Dirigo Health reform began in 2003, Maine had the highest rate of uninsured in New England. In the years following, as Medicaid expansions took hold and DirigoChoice became the fastest growing product in the marketplace, every New England state saw its rate of uninsured increase; only Maine saw its rate fall to the lowest in the region by 2006,” said Riley, who continued informing Congress of the broad bipartisan support among Maine lawmakers, insurance companies, physicians and hospitals, when the Dirigo measures were enacted in 2003.

But with the creation of the partisan Heritage Policy Center, bad news about Dirigo based on falsehoods and misleading statistics have drawn a line in the sand and virtually turned the issue partisan. While Democrats continue to make sure people have a chance at obtaining healthcare coverage and save lives, Republicans have voted en bloc against Dirigo.

The facts remain: Maine’s rate of uninsured people has dropped because of DirigoChoice. Maine’s rate of uninsured is at 9% while the nations average is 15%. Please vote No on Question 1.