Leaders of Maine's government last week agreed to a healthcare reform recess, abandoning an ambitious state plan in favor of synchronizing their policy watches with Washington's reform timetable.
The state's holding pattern is similar to those adopted by several other states as federal debate begins in earnest and concern mounts that state initiatives will be pre-empted by congressional action (See related story, this page).
A pullback position by Maine's Democratic legislative leaders ended a two-year campaign to pass a comprehensive plan in which a new state agency would be created to oversee a managed-care plan for all residents.
Participation would have been mandatory for all employers and providers. Funding from private premiums, a $5 million increase in the state cigarette tax and all government sources would have been funneled through a state trust fund to finance an array of health benefits.
The Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, faced a threatened veto by Republican Gov. John R. McKernan and the constraints of an early-April adjournment. So they proposed authorizing the state's rate-setting commission to develop bipartisan alternatives for universal coverage, said Dan Paradee, an aide to Senate President Dennis Dutremble.
"We shouldn't be sitting around waiting for Washington," Mr. Paradee said. "By the time the feds act, we'll have a good grasp on what we need in Maine and what will work in Maine. We'll be controlling our destiny."
Meanwhile, the governor has proposed creating a "quick-mobilization" commission to track federal progress through the spring and summer and be ready to propose the best ways to implement federal reform in Maine, said Cory Tilley, press secretary to Mr. McKernan. Mr. Tilley said the governor is willing to call a special session in the fall if federal legislation is hammered out by then.
Mr. Tilley said the governor had opposed the McCormick bill as "more of a government takeover of healthcare" than a healthcare reform measure. The Maine Hospital Association also opposed it, said James A. Harnar, director of communications and member services for the MHA.
In addition, Mr. Tilley said, "it's stupid for us to go ahead this close to what the federal government is doing."
The lull benefits the MHA, which is developing a plan for universal coverage without creating a greater role for government, Mr. Harnar said.
The Democratic proposal envisions using the commission's staff as an expert base for collecting information and proposing alternatives, said state Rep. Charlene B. Rydell. The plan sets two goals: universal coverage for all children under 18 by July 1, 1996, and coverage for everyone else a year later.