The state’s health insurance system faces a major overhaul, a move that is dividing legislators sharply along party lines.

The House voted 76-72 on Thursday, May 5 to approve LD 1333.

Supporters of the change say it will make health insurance more affordable but opponents claim it will deny coverage for people with existing conditions, increase costs for older citizens, and strip away consumer protection.

Democrats are also taking aim at the way the bill has been handled, saying it has been pushed through so quickly that legislators and the public have not had time to study the proposals. An amendment that replaced the original bill was not provided to legislators until Wednesday, May 4.

Voting for the bill were Republican Reps. Wes Richardson of Warren, Dana Dow of Waldoboro, Deborah Sanderson of Chelsea and Jonathan McKane of Newcastle.

Voting against the bill were Democratic Reps. Edward Mazurek of Rockland, Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, Joan Welsh of Rockport, Andrew O’Brien of Lincolnville, and Walter Kumiega III of Deer Isle.

“The proposed changes to health insurance laws in LD 1333 are very bad for consumers,” Kruger said.

O’Brien said complex public policy needs plenty of time to be properly studied and vetted — not introduced and rammed through in less than a week.

The process by which this bill was presented to the committee was not done in the standard way, Welsh said. “The committee had very little time to review the bill or to have adequate public comment on the bill. There may be some good aspects to this bill, but I have not yet been able to read it thoroughly or to be briefed on it. What I do know, is that allowing people to buy insurance out of state may mean that they could be dropped if they develop a serious illness, or could be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition.”

Welsh said she would like to wait to see how the federal law will effect Maine and then develop a state program to fill in those gaps.

Mazurek said the changes in the insurance laws will not benefit the average policyholder.

“Doing away with the pre-existing condition protection that we now enjoy will put many, many people at risk of being not able to have affordable health coverage,” Mazurek said.

Kumiega said the bill has major problems in substance and process.

“(LD1333) allows rate increase factors of up to five times for age, and unlimited increases due to geography, occupation and family health history. It has gone from public hearing through two amendments to the House floor in a week. No other legislation has been moved along that fast, with so little debate. No research by the Bureau of Insurance has been done to determine what its real effects will be,” Kumiega said.

The Maine Women’s Lobby also voiced opposition to the bill.

“The bill fundamentally alters the health insurance system in Maine,” said Charlotte Warren, associate director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, in a news release. “This bill permits out-of-state insurers to sell plans in Maine — exempt from Maine’s coverage requirements. That’s bad news for women who rely on coverage for maternity care. Dismantling Maine’s longstanding consumer protections should not be confused with reform.”

The only Republican state representative to return a request for comment on the bill was Rep. Richardson who served on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee, which handled the bill.

Richardson said the bill will not deny coverage to anyone. He said younger people will see reduced rates. He said a young, healthy man, for example, should not have to purchase health insurance that includes coverage for pregnancy.