LePage: Fix one thing and the GOP health bill is good to go

Good morning from Augusta, where we’ve been keeping an eye remotely on Gov. Paul LePage’s latest trip to Washington, D.C.

He’s trying to play dealmaker on health care reform. But on Tuesday, he was amplifying concerns around protections for people with pre-existing conditions that threaten to sink the bill within the Republican caucus.

LePage met on Monday and Tuesday with key lawmakers in the conservative House Freedom Caucus — U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, the chairman, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who founded the group.

The Freedom Caucus was largely responsible for sinking Republicans’ unsuccessful March bid to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. They’re now on board after an amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, has replaced many elements of that earlier bill.

Maine has played a key role. The bill includes a piece of state Republicans’ 2011 health care reform law that established high-risk pools, where people with pre-existing conditions were identified by insurers to go into a pool where the state and insurers helped pay for premiums. Maine’s risk pools are “invisible,” meaning people in the pools don’t know they’re in it.

However, protections for people with pre-existing conditions are where the conflict now is on the reform bill. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and makes it so they can’t charge more.

The MacArthur amendment is written in a way that looks to maintain protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but health experts told Politifact that other provisions would allow insurers to raise rates in a way that would make insurance unaffordable.

After initially opposing Republicans’ health care package in March, LePage supported the deal after lobbying for changes to Medicaid and attacked other Republicans for bucking President Donald Trump on the bill.

In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, LePage said a Republican health care deal is “so, so close.” However, he criticized “this idea that pre-existing conditions should be used to set rates.”

“I think that needs to go away,” he said. “That goes away, this bill becomes a very good bill. Then, it would mirror Maine and I think America could move forward.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • A LePage veto got ‘washed away’ on Tuesday because roadside litter doesn’t. Back home, the governor grabbed attention on Tuesday after vetoing a bill to establish Maine Community Cleanup Day, justifying it in part because he found the May timing impractical since “litter is known to be washed away” after snow melts. (Fact check: Never mind.) It led to a memorable floor debate line from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram: “In my neck of the woods, when the snowbanks finally melt in April, it leaves behind piles of trash. We all know that it doesn’t automatically wash away like the chief executive believes.” It was overridden in a 109-36 vote, with 34 Republicans bucking LePage and another 34 backing him. It now goes to the Senate. — Michael Shepherd
  • Poliquin almost went into the wrong bathroom to avoid a reporter. Slate was trying to pin down moderate Republicans on their party’s health care plan when a reporter spotted U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, walking out of a Tuesday meeting. Poliquin’s office said last week he was “thoroughly reviewing” proposals, but Slate asked him if he had made a decision. That’s when the congressman “said nothing and made a beeline to the restroom. Unfortunately it was the door to the women’s restroom that he had first run to, so he corrected himself and went into the men’s room. When he emerged several minutes later, he was wearing his earbuds and scurried away.” A Poliquin spokesman responded on Twitter by saying “When you gotta go, you gotta go” and that he’s still reviewing the bill. — Michael Shepherd
  • Poliquin bill would require SEC to pay attention to its own forum. The Small Business Capital Formation Enhancement Act passed through the House on Monday by a 406-0 vote. Every year the Securities and Exchange Commission hosts the Government-Business Forum on Capital Formation, a gathering of experts on funding for small businesses. Poliquin’s bill would require the SEC to review the forum’s findings and disclose any action it intends to take as a result. — Christopher Cousins
  • Democrats are attempting, again, to force LePage to disclose his Riverview plans. Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook will present a bill to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee that according to a news release would require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a detailed plan for a step-down facility for psychiatric patients in the care of the state and would require LePage to disclose how the administration plans to pay for it. The bill currently exists as a concept draft — which means it has no language yet — but Gattine said it is about ensuring an “open and transparent” process. –– Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are out until Thursday. Here are a few highlights from today’s long committee schedule.

  • The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hear testimony on a number of bills related to county jails and Department of Corrections facilities. One of them, up for a work session this afternoon, would prohibit the privatization of correctional facilities and forensic hospitals, which would be a clear shot at LePage’s plans to privatize a forensic mental health unit.
  • The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will continue a debate that has been ongoing for months (or years) about Maine’s campaign finance laws and the Maine Clean Election Act.
  • The Taxation Committee could make recommendations on two bills seeking to repeal or reduce the personal property tax in Maine. The committee will also be introduced to several new bills this afternoon that would affect the state’s tax code and what you pay.
  • The State and Local Government Committee could make recommendations today on several bills that seek to increase the pay of the governor and members of the Legislature.
  • The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has a work session scheduled on a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracking and its threats to drinking water in Maine. There is high interest, with 100 items listed online from Monday’s testimony on the bill.
  • The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee could be close to making recommendations on An Act to Encourage Broadband Coverage in Maine, which is one of the Democrats’ marquee bills this session. It’s up for a work session this afternoon.
  • The Education Committee has a busy day on a number of bills, including a concept carried over from last session that aims to improve the situation for public school teachers in a number of ways, including establishing a minimum salary for certified teachers of $40,000 a year. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Was this bed owned by the Maine doctor who misdiagnosed FDR?

The BDN’s Beth Brogan spotted this Facebook gem in which a Cape Elizabeth woman is looking to give away a bed that she says was owned by Dr. E.H. Bennett of Lubec, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s doctor in 1921 when he fell ill on Campobello Island.

A biographer called Bennett “an elderly country doctor” who was “well suited to delivering babies and setting broken bones but not especially qualified for complex diagnoses.” He said Roosevelt had a cold. Another doctor said he had a spinal blood clot. Of course, the future president was later diagnosed with polio.

Since then, researchers have suspected that Roosevelt may not have even had polio. Bennett’s wasn’t the only misdiagnosis, so rest easy knowing that. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.