But when representatives from the American Cancer Society, the National Association of Social Workers, the Maine Hospital Association, and other stakeholders submitted their testimony, LD 1333 was a four-page bill focused on liberalizing the "community rating bands" that limit how much more insurance companies can charge a person on account of their age, gender, occupation, health status, or place of residency. Opponents had plenty of problems with it — the NASW warned it would likely "effectively double the premium" for the sick and elderly, forcing many of them into "medical bankruptcy" — but at least they had a chance to express their concerns.
Little did they know that a few hours before the April 27 hearing — as legislators and lobbyists crammed the halls of the State House, scurrying from one committee room to another — Republicans had unveiled a new 29-page amendment to the bill. Three of the four Democrats on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee hadn't seen the bill either, and the fourth, Treat (a Hallowell Democrat), had been handed a copy by the bill's sponsor, Representative Wesley Richardson (R-Warren), only that morning. "We're in the middle of session voting on bills, so I had no chance to read it, Xerox it, or give it to anyone else," Treat recalls. "They iced out everybody showing up for the hearing, and every Democrat on the committee except me."
Where had the new text come from and why did it arrive in such an untimely fashion? Richardson says it was just a matter of consolidation, of merging various insurance-related bills floating around the State House into a single document. "It sure seemed like an easier way to do it," he says. The speaker of the house's spokesman, Lance Dutson, said the bill was produced as part of a working team that included Joel Allumbaugh (president of the Maine Association of Health Underwriters), Joe Edwards (Governor Jock McKernan's superintendent of insurance), and Tarren Bragdon, the just-departed head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and a close advisor to Governor LePage.
Progressive interests often cast Bragdon — who relocated to Florida just after LD 1333's passage — as the architect of many Republican initiatives. His role is controversial because MCHP doesn't disclose the sources of its $1.1 million in annual donations and grants, part of which underwrote Bragdon's $130,000 salary. (Possible suspects include the health-insurance companies themselves.) He served as the co-chair of LePage's transition team while his brother, Trevor, is a policy advisor to House Speaker Bob Nutting (R-Oakland).
But the Republican leadership is open and unapologetic about MCHP's influence over the bill. "Tarren Bragdon's role in the health care discussion in Maine was a fact of life," Dutson says. "He's been a major part of the discussion across the board and has been extremely helpful. He's one of the premier thinkers on the health care debate."
By the time the press and public became aware of the bill's scope two days later, Republicans on the committee had already convened the "work session" for the bill. "A committee's job is to get a bill ready for prime time so it can be voted on down in the House and Senate. That's where 99 percent of the real work is done," says Senator Justin Alfond (D-Portland), the assistant Democratic leader, who received an urgent call from his colleagues that something unusual was happening at the work session. "In this case, the committee was being denied an opportunity to amend or study the bill. The Republicans just wanted to ramrod it through that day."