AUGUSTA – A common refrain from liberals and partisan Democrats in Maine and across the country in recent years has been that any changes to the federal Obamacare law, such as the elimination of the individual mandate, would cause insurance rates to spike. News broke last week in Maine that those predictions were wrong, and Mainers who rely on the individual health insurance market will see their health insurance premiums reduced by anywhere from 4.3% to 26.5% in the coming year.
According to the Maine Bureau of Insurance, the health insurance premium decreases reflect a stabilization thanks to a reinsurance pool favored by conservative lawmakers but opposed nationally by Democrats.
According to the Maine Bureau of Insurance, the trend reflects the effect of the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association (MGARA) which was relaunched in 2019. MGARA helps insurers keep premiums low by ceding coverage of members with high-cost conditions to the reinsurance program. As noted above, the majority of those purchasing their own insurance do not pay full price. Those who are at 400 percent or more of the federal poverty level do pay full price and directly benefit from any lowering of premiums on the Individual Market.
These sorts of reinsurance, or invisible risk pools, as they are known, have been assailed nationally at times by Democrats, who claimed they would not effectively control or reduce rates without tens of billions in additional funding and the Obamacare individual mandate being kept in place. That mandate was removed under a Republican tax reform bill in 2017.
In Maine, low and middle-income families had been hit hardest by that mandate, with 34,000 Maine families penalized because they could not afford insurance in 2015. More than 27,000 of those families earned less than $50,000 in the same year.
The non-profit group Maine People Before Politics weighed in on the good news for Mainers who rely on the individual insurance market, saying that the MGARA program was created under Gov. Paul LePage but given the axe due to the passage of Obamacare shortly after it began to show positive results.
“After President Trump took office, his administration allowed Maine to implement MGARA once again,” said MPBP in a statement.
“At the time, Maine only had two insurers in the individual marketplace. Anthem, which had left the exchange in 2018 and minimized its presence in the off-exchange market, had announced that it would come back to the exchange if MGARA was reactivated. More choice is good for consumers.
“Now Mainers are seeing the benefits of the cooperation between the LePage and Trump administrations in bringing back this invisible high risk pool.”