Poliquin hails arrival of GOP alternative to Obamacare, but stops short of support

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre.

Two days ago, freshman Congressman Bruce Poliquin caused a national whiplash in his direction when he was one of only three House Republicans who didn’t vote in favor of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (that’s Obamacare, for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention).

According to Maine-based health care policy consultant and ACA supporter Mitchell Stein, the three GOP House members who voted against Tuesday’s repeal attempt, including Poliquin, were the first three Republicans to EVER break from their party on this issue.

“He knows his district is mixed on this issue so he wants to be seen as reasonable,” said Stein. “As far as that goes, I applaud that.”

Poliquin spent much of his campaign for the 2nd Congressional District seat last year, as well as his 2012 primary campaign for the U.S. Senate, criticizing the ACA ad calling for its repeal. But as Mario Moretto reported here at State & Capitol on Tuesday, Poliquin has recently been careful to say that he would vote to repeal the ACA only if there were a viable alternative ready to go. Well, now that time has apparently come. Or has it?

“Finally, a Real Plan to Replace and Fix Obamacare,” read the headline on a Thursday morning press release from Poliquin, referring to the framework of an alternative released Wednesday by Republican leaders. However forceful that headline, Poliquin remains noncommittal.

“There will likely be several other plans put on the table over the coming weeks,” said Poliquin. “I look forward to evaluating all of them. I will support the one that best helps our hard-working 2nd District families and small businesses secure the health insurance that best fits their needs at a cost they can afford. The final plan also must address a way forward for the 63,000 Maine families who have purchased, with their own money, Obamacare policies through the federal insurance exchange.”

The plan released Wednesday, which was largely recycled from a concept discussed by Republicans last year, would end individual and business mandates in the ACA –which are what makes it possible to keep premiums down because they force healthy people to pay for insurance to offset the costs of sicker enrollees — and would require low-wage earners on Medicaid to buy private plans. The plan would maintain tax credits for the poor but cut back on subsidies now available to the middle class.

Those provisions and others will make the Republican alternative a non-starter for Democrats, including President Barack Obama and his veto pen.

Looming in the wings of the health care debate is a pending U.S. Supreme Court case that could put an end to subsidies for people who bought their insurance on the federal exchange. The prevailing theory is that the court wouldn’t make a ruling that would end health coverage for millions of Americans without having a viable Plan B ready to go. That, along with the fact that a new session of Congress has just begun, is why we’re suddenly seeing renewed attention to the ACA.

Poliquin’s vote on Tuesday and his press release Thursday let him stand to some degree with one foot on each side of the debate while earning attention in the press and in the public. But according to Stein, Poliquin is veiling his true intentions to eventually support whatever Republican alternative gains the most steam en route to another vote to repeal the ACA.

“I’m not truly convinced that he has had any change in heart and is really serious about helping more people have health care,” said Stein.

For his part, Poliquin indicated in his press release he looks at health coverage primarily through a lens of how it will affect small businesses job creation.

“A free-market alternative to our health care problem that, finally, ends the expensive ObamaCare individual and employer mandates, will help our small businesses grow and hire more workers,” said Poliquin. “A healthy, growing economy will provide our families with fatter paychecks and more freedom.”

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.