AUGUSTA, Maine — No member of Maine’s congressional delegation likes everything in the new health care law, but all agree it’s unlikely there will be any changes until a new Congress is in office next year.
“I do believe there will have to be changes to this law,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said. “But I do not believe, with the climate that we are in, that there will be any changes this year.”
She said the taxes in the law are “devastating,” and the mandates on employers and individuals are just some of her concerns with the legislation. She said while she has a lot of concerns, some of the provisions in the law will help Americans this year.
“Some of the positive benefits will be tax credits for small businesses,” she said. “Lifetime caps on care will be banned, and children will be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance longer; those are provisions I think there was broad support for.”
But, Snowe said, making changes to the law, even changes with broad support in an election year after the “poisoned atmosphere in the United States Senate,” is very unlikely. She said the political maneuvering that passed the law has created wounds that will take time to heal.
“I certainly think there are changes that need to be made,” Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said. “I voted for the bill, but I know there are a lot of things I want to change, but we have time to do that.”
He said many of the most controversial provisions, such as mandates on workers and employers that he does not like, do not take effect until 2014, and there will be the opportunity to fix the problems with the legislation next year. He said in his legislative experience, both in the Maine Legislature and in Congress, there never has been a perfect bill.
“The bottom line is, when you look at the bill, probably 75 to 80 percent both sides can agree with,” he said. “I think you will see effort next year in the new Congress to deal with the remaining areas where there is disagreement.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said there is no doubt the combination of the politics of the health care reform law and the politics of an election year will make any changes to the law “unlikely” although she agrees there are many provisions that should be changed.
“I think there are many flaws in the bill that should be repealed,” she said. “I think this bill needs a lot of improvement, but I don’t think the appetite is there to work on it further this year.”
Collins said the new law relies too heavily on sanctions and not enough on incentives. For example, she said, the tax credits provided businesses to help pay for health insurance are too small and phase out in a few years.
“Sixty-three percent of uninsured workers are employed by small businesses,” she said. “If we gave them truly generous tax credits, many of those small businesses would provide health insurance. Instead, this bill takes a punitive approach.”
Collins agreed there are many provisions in the health law that have broad, bipartisan support and will improve the health care coverage of many Americans, but she is strongly opposed to some provisions such as the cuts to Medicare made to help pay for the legislation.
“There are some in Congress that want to repeal the bill, and that I think is wrong,” Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said. “There are many things that are going to be very useful to people in Maine and the rest of the country in this bill.”
She said that although she voted for the legislation, it left out a major provision that she thinks is needed: a public option that would hold private insurance companies accountable.
“There is an opportunity for a state like Maine to include a public option in its implementation process,” Pingree said. “Maine is extremely well-poised to move ahead and to develop the exchange to give people more choice in their insurance.”
She said there are many improvements she would like to see and is sponsoring a measure that would allow a national public option, but she agreed that is not likely to pass this year. She said she hopes Maine will seek to make use of the pilot programs authorized in the legislation to craft solutions to problems unique to states or regions.
“I think we need to focus now on what is in the law, and we can move foreword and implement now,” Pingree said.
Both Pingree and Michaud are up for re-election this year, as is the whole House, but neither Snowe nor Collins are on the ballot this year.