With Republicans in Congress calling for a largely symbolic vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, members of the Maine congressional delegation on Tuesday showed themselves as divided on the issue as they were when the law was enacted.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven expressed frustration at the prospect of a vote to repeal the law, which in the Republican-controlled House could come as soon as next week.
“I’m completely opposed to repealing health care reform, and voting to repeal it means you are saying it’s OK for an insurance company to cancel your policy when you get sick — that just doesn’t make any sense,” Pingree told the Bangor Daily News early Tuesday afternoon. “The health care reform law we passed is a good start and I want to build on it.”
In a statement issued later in the day, Pingree’s rhetoric was amplified.
“Congress’ first priority in the new session should be moving our economy forward, not pushing our health care system backward,” she said in the statement. “Repealing this law means telling the teenager with diabetes that she can’t get insurance. It means telling the restaurant owner that he can’t get help to provide insurance to his employees. It means telling a grandmother that she’s going to have to keep cutting her heart pills in half. As families struggle to make ends meet in the down economy, do we really want to tell them these burdens are back on their shoulders?”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of East Millinocket was not immediately available to comment Tuesday. Michaud joined fellow House Democrats in voting for the Affordable Care Act in December 2009, after expressing concerns about the reform’s effect on small businesses and its inadequate focus on reducing costs in the health care delivery system. On Tuesday, a spokesman noted that Michaud had supported efforts last November to repeal a single provision of the law that requires small businesses to file a special tax form for services or purchases over $600.
“Small businesses are the job creators in our country, and we can’t afford to have them unnecessarily burdened,” Michaud said in a November statement supporting repeal of the tax provision. “The health insurance reform bill takes many important steps to improve access to quality, affordable health care for small-business owners throughout the country. But it’s important that we not allow those improvements to be undercut by burdensome reporting requirements. We must act now to repeal this provision so that small businesses do not face a red tape headache in the coming years.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who lives in Bangor, joined her fellow Republicans in voting unanimously against the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, she issued a statement demonstrating her ongoing opposition to certain provisions of the reform, including its impact on small businesses.
“The new law will discourage small businesses from hiring new employees and paying them more,” Collins said. “It could also lead to onerous financial penalties on some small businesses that are already struggling to provide health insurance for their employees.”
Although the Affordable Care Act provides tax credits for small businesses that help cover employees health insurance costs, Collins faulted the credits for being temporary and “poorly structured.”
Noting that the law contains “numerous … areas of bipartisan agreement” — including broad insurance industry reforms, a focus on improving the quality of health care, tax credits for the self-employed, the implementation of electronic medical records, a crackdown on hospital-acquired infections, a call for greater financial transparency in the health care system, incentives for workforce development and payment reform — Collins nonetheless decried the “bitter rhetoric and partisan gridlock” that characterized the drafting of the health reform legislation.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe said in a statement that she would support repeal in theory, but noted that the Senate lacks the Republican votes needed both to repeal the law and to override the certain presidential veto that would follow such a vote.
“Rather, this is about developing a plan for affordability by maintaining certain widely agreed-upon elements of reform — such as outlawing unconscionable insurance industry practices, banning pre-existing condition limitations and allowing parents to keep children on plans until age 26 — while eliminating the most egregious provisions of the bill.”
Snowe, whose endorsement was widely viewed as the only hope for bipartisan support of the health reform bill, ultimately voted with other Republicans against it.
In her statement on Tuesday, Snowe said one reason she was unable to support the bill was because it was unclear whether it would successfully achieve the goal of providing affordable health plans for individuals and small businesses. Snowe said she supports “unfettered competition” among health insurers to drive down costs and promote new coverage options.
Absent the possibility of outright repeal, Snowe said, certain provisions of the health reform must be eliminated. These include individual and employer mandates, an increased Medicare tax, and a long-term care program that many analysts have determined is unsustainable.


Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.