ELLSWORTH, Maine — Union leaders in Maine are calling on U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud to endorse a health care bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives.
The bill, called Affordable Health Care for America Act, was unveiled in the House last week. The House is expected to vote on the bill on Saturday afternoon or evening.
Michaud has expressed reservations about earlier versions of the bill, HR 3962, saying that he wants to know how resulting cuts in Medicare would affect Mainers.
He also has indicated that he is concerned about low federal reimbursement rates that already negatively affect Maine’s overall health care system.
“The congressman strongly supports health care reform and listens to all sides when deciding on how to vote on a bill,” Michaud’s spokesman, Ed Gilman, indicated Thursday in an e-mail. “He continues to work on these issues on a daily basis and is hopeful that they’ll be addressed in the final bill.”
Michaud said that any bill would have to include a government-funded public option for him to support it.
Leaders with various unions in Maine said Thursday, however, that Mainers cannot afford to wait any longer for meaningful health care reform.
While commending Michaud for pledging support for a public option, the union leaders said HR 3962 is the right bill to support. It would boost Medicare prescription drug coverage for 8,100 older residents of Michaud’s congressional district, they indicated during a conference call with reporters. As it now stands, 14 percent of people who live in the 2nd District do not have health insurance because they cannot afford it, they said.
“There’s no reason not to support this bill,” said Patrick Carlton, a worker at the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan and a member of the United Steelworkers union. “It’s time to stop wasting time on politics and to vote in favor of this bill.”
The labor leaders, who also included Marianne von Nordeck of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Maine AFL-CIO President Ed Gorham, said the bill would benefit pulp and paper mill workers. It would allow millworkers to retire before they are eligible for Medicare and would create job openings for younger Mainers looking for work, they said. Before he was elected to Congress, Michaud worked at a paper mill in East Millinocket.
The union representatives criticized groups that have opposed efforts in Congress to make health care more affordable. “There has been a tremendous amount of misinformation and lies meant to scare older Americans about this health care bill,” von Nordeck said.
On the other side of the issue, another group pressured Michaud on Thursday to vote against HR 3962.
In a prepared statement released Thursday, Americans for Limited Government called the bill “the Hard Left’s attempt to take over the nation’s entire health care system.” The group said that Tuesday’s elections, in which Republican governors were elected in New Jersey and Virginia, show that Americans are wary about “excessive government spending and taxes.”
On Tuesday, Maine voters rejected a statewide proposal to place tighter spending restrictions on state and local budgets.
“It’s time for Congressman Michaud to abandon ship if he wants to keep his job,” Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson said in the release. “The American people do not want more government; they are trying desperately to get government off their backs and out of their pockets.”
Maine’s other House member, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, is in favor of the bill, according to her spokesman. Willy Ritch said that Pingree is the only member of Maine’s congressional delegation who has been consistently supportive of House proposals that include public options. The House Rules committee, which Pingree sits on, is expected to hold a hearing on the bill at 2 p.m. today before the House votes on it on Saturday, he said.
“She’s a strong supporter of it and intends to vote for it,” Ritch said.