Obama Administration Grants Maine Health Reform Waiver

BY Lea Winerman  March 11, 2011 at 5:30 PM EST

In the news this week: Making health reform more flexible for states.

On Wednesday, the federal government gave Maine a waiver good through 2013 that will exempt the state from enforcing part of the health reform law — a new requirement that insurers spend at least 80 or 85 percent of their revenue providing medical services. Maine applied for the waiver and the administration granted it, saying that enforcing the requirement might destabilize the insurance market in the state. Three other states have applied for similar exemptions, and other states are considering it as well.

The Maine waiver applies to just one provision in the law. On Thursday, the administration announced rules governing a more expansive waiver program. Under these rules, states will be able to apply for a waiver, beginning in 2017, that would let them opt out of major provisions in the law if they can prove to the federal government that they can cover the same number of people, without increasing the deficit, as the national plan. President Obama has endorsed a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., that would move those state waivers up three years, to 2014.

In other news:

-The Justice Department on Tuesday asked a U.S. appeals court to reconsider Florida Judge Roger Vinson’s decision that the health reform law is unconstitutional. The appeals court could hear the case as early as this summer.

-It is looking increasingly unlikely that current Medicare chief Don Berwick will be able to survive a Senate confirmation process. But President Obama has said he will continue to support Berwick.