Study: $1B Saved If Maine Should Enact Single-Payer Plan

Maine could save $1 billion if it adopts a single-payer health care system, according to a new study — but some health care executives remain skeptical about the feasibility of such a switch.

That savings could be achieved by 2008, according to a study unanimously approved by the Health Care System and Security Board, a state legislative panel formed in 2001 and charged with assessing whether a single-payer system would work.

Mathematica Policy Research, the health policy research company that examined the report's analysis, concludes that health care spending in the state will rise to nearly $8.4 billion by 2004. That's a 27-percent increase from 2000.

Despite what amounts to a favorable review of the single-payer system, the legislative panel stopped short of recommending the approach. It did, however, conclude that the current system cannot endure much longer.

The board is comprised of members of business groups, hospitals, health insurers, labor unions, and both major political parties.

Gov. John Baldacci, for the time being, favors incremental reform. Richard Wexler, MD, the physician representative on the state advisory board, thinks that's all well and good, though he hopes that Baldacci does not rule out a complete overhaul at some point.

“There has been a lot of work done on this plan,” Wexler tells the Portland Press Herald. “It's important not to drop the ball.”

However, slow may be best, says Bill Cohen, a spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, who claims that insurers would rather see the current system fixed.

Besides, a single-payer system would mean that the federal government would have to change how it allocates funds for Medicare and for Medicaid, and that's not likely.

“The governor's office is dealing with things with a sense of reality,” Cohen tells the newspaper. “At least he's focusing on how to fix what's here and not create this new bureaucracy.”

The single-payer approach would reap savings by slashing administrative costs and eliminating insurance profits, proponents of the system claim.

The newspaper reports that “The most practical benefit plan… would require $50-a-day copayments for hospital visits, cap families' out-of-pocket expenses at $2,000 annually, and provide preventive care.”