The Situation 

In 2003, Maine was among five states with the fastest-rising health insurance premiums in the nation.  Led by Gov. John Baldacci, Maine moved to solve the crisis by enacting the Dirigo Health Reform Act, a pioneering first effort to provide every man, woman and child in the state with affordable access to high quality, health coverage.  The cornerstone of Dirigo Health was a public-private partnership intended to provide low-cost, comprehensive coverage with a sliding scale of premium rates based on income.   

By 2005, Dirigo Health was under full assault from an array national anti-reform opponents.  Grover Norquist’s National Taxpayers Union had launched a national campaign to kill Dirigo Health.  The Heritage Foundation had had set up offices in the state to fight Maine’s “socialist” health plan.  With strong support from out-of-state insurance companies, they set their sights on killing Dirigo in Maine’s 2005 legislative session.   

They rolled out a three-pronged attack on Maine’s health reform plan.  The first of three bills introduced in the state legislature, LD 1677, would cut overall state funding for health care, including Medicaid, to a level that would starve Dirigo financing.  A companion bill, LD 1577, would block future funding for Dirigo Health.  A third bill, LD 1496 would accomplish the out-of-state insurers’ objective of dismantling the state’s health insurance consumer protections. 

Passage of any one of the three bills would cripple and ultimately kill Dirigo Health.  

That’s when the Maine AFL-CIO President Eddie Gorham reached out for help from America’s Agenda. “We need a campaign and a media voice to counter the fear and distortions about Dirigo that The Heritage Foundation and Grover Norquist are spreading around Maine,” Gorham said. 

The right-wing media barrage was taking a toll.  Approval ratings for Gov. Baldacci had fallen into negative territory.  Democrats held slim majorities in both houses of the legislature, but moderates had grown nervous.  With only six weeks remaining in the session, whip counts showed legislative majorities leaning in favor of the three opposition bills. 

Campaign Strategy 

America’s Agenda dove into work with Maine AFL-CIO leaders, individual unions, consumer advocates, and church leaders to design and execute a turn-around campaign strategy that included the following elements:  

  • Quick Organization of a high-impact campaign organization – The “Mainers for Health Care” campaign welcomed professional, progressive community, and faith organizations from around the state to its swelling ranks.
  • Public mobilization - Rallies and press conferences and standing-only crowds at legislative committee hearings earned positive media coverage.
  • Identification of Dirigo Health with core Mainer values – The campaign strove to transcend anti-reform efforts to create a left-right political divide by building bridges between state progressives and traditional social conservatives like the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland.
  • Branding of opposition to Dirigo Health as “out-of-state ideologues.”

  • Rapid Response Operation - The Mainers for Health Care rapid response team systematically neutralized opposition messaging, at times dominating evening news coverage of opposition events!
  • Campaign heat targeted at moderate Democratic legislators who had been tipping toward support of the anti-Dirigo bills – State legislators who had been bending funder pressure from the right wing became the targets of a Mainers for Health Care email campaign that snowballed into the largest legislative email blitz in state history. 


The Result 

The campaign won back the votes of wavering moderates.  The two bills that would have choked off Dirigo Health funding were defeated.  The third bill that would have killed Maine’s health insurance consumer protections was itself killed in committee. 

In late 2005, the Maine Superintendent of Insurance found that Dirigo Health had saved the state nearly $45,000 in health care spending over the program’s first year. In 2006, the Superintendent found that Dirigo saved $78.6 million in health spending. 

Perhaps more important, Mainers’ passage and bold defense of Dirigo Health against a national right-wing assault became an inspiration for citizen health reform movements in states across America. Whatever the particular strengths or weaknesses of Maine’s pioneering experiment, the willingness of Mainers to lead helped regenerate a movement to win the health reform Americans need.


State Campaigns

Repelled Attack

Radio Spot: "Predators"

Radio Spot: "The Culture of Life"

Maine Endorsement

The Governor and the legislative leadership are very appreciative of what America’s Agenda has done for Maine.  So are we.  We could not have won these victories without the support of America’s Agenda.

Ned McCann

Follow Us On: