Collins’ questions presage Senate trouble for GOP health plan

Good morning from Augusta. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed their first hurdle to repealing the Affordable Care Act on Thursday. But it’s going to be a different game in the Senate.

That was evidenced by the responses from Maine’s two congressional Republicans: Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District voted for the American Health Care Act on Thursday, while U.S. Sen. Susan Collins issued a list of questions indicating that she’s still highly skeptical of the plan.

Thursday’s vote came before the updated bill was evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office, but an earlier estimate said 24 million would lose insurance by 2026 under the plan. Overall, it said average premiums would decrease starting in 2020.

But that belies an uneven set of impacts. While premiums for younger people would go down, insurers would be able to charge more for older people.

Maine is the oldest state in the nation. Estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that people just shy of Medicare age would be hard-hit by the earlier plan, particularly residents of Aroostook, Washington and Hancock counties with incomes of $50,000 or less.

The bill as written looks to maintain Affordable Care Act protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but health groups including the American Medical Association have said it would allow insurers to raise rates in a way that would make insurance unaffordable for those people. Poliquin has long said any replacement plan should cover people pre-existing conditions.

On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Poliquin said the bill would allow people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance at the same cost as others. When pressed by a reporter on the Kaiser estimates for his district, he said lawmakers have “changed that.” He also repeated the notion that “only the 7 percent of Maine residents who Obamacare health care policies” are affected by the law.

But those are oversimplifications. While an amendment to the bill added “high-risk pools” — an idea that originated in Maine — to cover people with pre-existing conditions, some have doubt that they’ll be funded enough to tamp down costs for that population.

Also, the bill also makes wider changes to the health care system outside of the Affordable Care Act exchanges. As just one example, it would allow states to set essential health benefits via waivers, which could affect people with employer coverage.

But in a statement, Poliquin also turned to the Senate, saying he hopes the bill
“comes back stronger and better.” But in her own statement, Collins said “there seem to be more questions than answers” about.

Then, she listed some of those questions, which revolved around the effect on low-income Mainers, people with pre-existing conditions as well as Medicaid and special education changes.

Collins could be a swing vote on any replacement plan and her nuanced questions indicate that this debate is going to get a lot more complicated in the upper chamber. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

The Legislature overturned three of LePage’s vetoes on Thursday. Here are the details:

  • LD 21, which exempts nonprofit hospitals from a background check when acting as power of attorney for the temporary care of a minor. The veto was overridden 128-17 Tuesday in the House and 35-0 Thursday in the Senate.
  • LD 432, which designates the first Saturday in May as Maine Community Litter Cleanup Day. The veto was overridden 109-36 Tuesday in the House and 30-5 Thursday in the Senate. This bill requires LePage to issue a proclamation establishing clean-up day tomorrow. We’ll keep you posted, but just go ahead and pick up some litter regardless of what happens.
  • LD 444, which will allow certain disabled veterans or drivers with special veterans registration plates to have a higher gross vehicle weight. This veto was overridden 34-0 in the Senate on Tuesday and 120-17 in the House on Thursday. — Christopher Cousins

LePage will host another news conference today. The governor has at times during his tenure gone for months without hosting a news conference and at one point vowed to never speak to any reporter ever again. Now, advocating for his biennial budget proposal, he has held three news conferences at the State House in the past couple of weeks on energy, education and taxes. Today, he’ll discuss the state of Maine’s economy during a 10:15 a.m. event at Somic America, an auto parts manufacturing company in Brewer. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are out until Tuesday. Here are some highlights from today’s committee schedule, which kicks off around 9 a.m. today.

Reading list

Were they all strictly and truly welcome?

When voters oust their senators and representatives from the Legislature, there’s a natural expectation that barring re-election, those people are gone for good. Not so.

On Thursday, dozens of former lawmakers and legislative staff returned to the State House for a tradition known as Welcome Back Day. There were ceremonies in both chambers, lots of clapping, and pronouncements of things like oldest and youngest sitting lawmaker and legislative alum from the legislative session longest ago.

These days, most lawmakers could identify someone in the Legislature that they’d like to see go and never return if you promised not to spread it around. I don’t have the time to research the origins of Welcome Back Day but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was fighting over the name. Here’s their soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

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.