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Good morning.

If you are following national politics, one of the big news stories this week is that Sen. Hillary Clinton has issued her plan to provide universal coverage for all Americans.

With release of her plans this week, she joins Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, who have also released detailed proposals for universal coverage.

Added to the mix is the work that’s being done in California by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the work that was done to establish universal health care in Massachusetts by former Gov. Mitt Romney.

In Maine, we recognized the importance of universal health insurance about four years ago when the Legislature supported Dirigo Health Reform with a large, bipartisan majority.

Since then, a lot has happened in Maine and in the United States. While most states have seen the number of people without insurance creeping up, Maine has been able to hold the line.

According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census, Maine is tied for first in the nation for making sure our people have health care coverage.

Dirigo Health Reform isn’t perfect, and it surely attracted its share of detractors, many of them motivated by little more than ideological zeal.

In other cases, there are legitimate differences of opinion. Three years ago, Maine partnered with Anthem, the state’s largest insurance company, to create DirigoChoice insurance product.

DirigoChoice is a private health insurance plan that’s part of a larger Dirigo Health Reform effort. It makes quality health insurance more affordable for businesses and individuals and has subsidies available for people who need a little financial help.

The insurance plan has been a modest success. Thousands of people have insurance today who would not have it without DirigoChoice, and thousands of others have used the plan to help bridge gaps in their coverage.

Recently, the state had to look for alternatives.

Harvard Pilgrim, a nonprofit health insurance company that is consistently ranked among the best in the country by its clients, has agreed that Dirigo is an attractive business opportunity.

It bodes well for Dirigo and the health reform efforts we are trying in Maine, but it also helps all of our citizens by providing competition in the private insurance market. So these are companies that are interested in working in Maine and with the Dirigo Health Program on this effort.

We know the Dirigo Health Reforms are working. Just this week, the Superintendent of Insurance determined that the program had saved almost $33 million in health care spending in its third year alone.

While we believe the savings were larger, $33 million is significant. That’s money that wasn’t needlessly spent and will instead be re-invested in expanding coverage to people who don’t have it.

To make health care more accessible and affordable, we have to control costs. On that score, Dirigo is creating real dividends.

Momentum is growing also in this country for a new direction on health care. We can not be satisfied with a status quo that allows 45 million U.S. citizens to go without health insurance.

It’s bad economic policy. But more than that, it’s just wrong for the most innovative, industrious country in the world to be content with such health care insecurity.

I’m proud of what we have accomplished in Maine, even though work remains and the struggle for full health insurance coverage is far from complete.

But the challenge of providing access to quality, affordable health care to all our citizens is a national problem that begs for a national solution.

Until we have one, we will continue our efforts here in Maine.

In addition to Dirigo, we need bring greater competition to the health insurance market, adopt market reforms that will make the rates more transparent while also holding down costs.

There will come a day in this country when every man, woman and child has access to good health care. It won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap.

That day’s not here yet, but we can get there.

If we work together, put aside the partisan bickering and focus on good public policy, Maine can continue to be a leader in making sure people have the health care that they need, and it’s affordable and high quality. And we can continue to be a model for the rest of the country.

Thank you.

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