Maine’s Universal Healthcare Flops

Hmm, who would have thought (via the NYT):

April 30, 2007
Expensive Lesson for Maine as Health Plan Stalls
By PAM BELLUCK

PORTLAND, Me., April 23 — When Maine became the first state in years to enact a law intended to provide universal health care, one of its goals was to cover the estimated 130,000 residents who had no insurance by 2009, starting with 31,000 of them by the end of 2005, the program’s first year.

So far, it has not come close to that goal. Only 18,800 people have signed up for the state’s coverage and many of them already had insurance.

“I think when we first started, in terms of making estimates, we really were kind of groping in the dark,” said Gov. John E. Baldacci, who this month proposed a host of adjustments.

The story of Maine’s health program — which tries to control hospital costs, improve the quality of health care and offer subsidized insurance to low-income people — harbors lessons for the country, as covering the uninsured takes center stage. States, including California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have unveiled programs of their own, seeking to balance the needs and interests of individuals, employers, insurers and health care providers.

But as Maine tries to reform its reforms, it faces some particular challenges: It has large rural, poor and elderly populations with significant health needs. It has many mom-and-pop businesses and part-time or seasonal workers, and few employers large enough to voluntarily offer employees insurance. And most insurers here no longer find it profitable to sell individual coverage, leaving one carrier, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, with a majority of the market, a landscape that some economists said could make it harder to provide broad choices and competitive prices.

I’m all for individual states trying this out, rather than a nationwide plan.