AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage switched his stance and came out publicly in favor of the national Republican health care plan on Thursday, but Maine’s U.S. senators doubled down on their opposition to the endangered bill after the governor asked them to back it.
LePage has lobbied for changes to the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that have now been added to the law, but it’s still struggling amid conservative opposition and a planned Thursday vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was postponed until Friday.
He and six other Republican governors wrote to party congressional leaders in support of it. LePage also sent identical letters on Wednesday to Collins, a moderate Republican, and King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
“I’m urging you to join us in the effort to repeal, replace and reform ObamaCare once and for all,” he wrote to the senators. “The people of Maine elected you to a place on the national stage, but they expect you to represent them — not the residents of some other state. Their economic future, as well as the long-term financial stability of our state, is at stake.”
Until now, LePage has voiced opposition to the proposed health care plan. But changes that he has called for, including an earlier end to support for Medicaid expansion for non-disabled adults and allowing states to set work requirements and take block grants, have been worked into the plan. The governor has refused expansion under current law, vetoing it five times.
But the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it would result in 14 million people losing coverage by 2018 and rural Maine is set to be hit hard by the plan as written, which substitutes a system of tax credits for the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
Under it, a 60-year-old in Piscataquis County earning $30,000 a year would see federal aid drop by nearly 60 percent from $9,730 under Obamacare to $4,000, with someone needing to make $50,000 there to see a benefit. The Maine Hospital Association has said the plan would endanger hospitals by increasing the number of people without health coverage.
Among other things, that has led King and Collins to oppose the bill, alongside U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District hasn’t said how he’ll vote and was pushing increased tax credits for people between the ages of 50 and 64 earlier this week. The two House members got no letter from LePage.
Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark sniped back at LePage after the letter, saying the basis for him “changing his position from strongly against the House health care bill to strongly in favor of it” isn’t clear in the letter and that the senator’s concerns “remain the same.”
King called the House bill “bad” in a Thursday statement, saying it “strips tens of thousands of Maine people of their health insurance, skyrockets costs for older, working class folks” and “deals a blow to our fight against the opioid epidemic.”
Adrienne Bennett, a LePage spokeswoman, said while the letters to the senators offered full-throated support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting the American Health Care Act, “there is more work to do” on the latter and LePage supports it as a “start.”
In his letters to King and Collins, LePage said continuing to allow non-disabled adults without children into the program would cause an estimated 100,000 Mainers to drop private insurance and enroll in Medicaid. However, the governor hasn’t data that clearly supports his claim and data show that phenomenon is rare nationally.
Poliquin’s office didn’t respond to interview requests on Thursday, but Pingree said while LePage’s rejection of Medicaid has had “a little bit of ideological impact” on the state, the House Republican plan would “affect Maine for the next decade or for however long we have to suffer under block granting of Medicaid.”
“Our state is going to be faced with some of the worst decisions we’ve ever had to make about who gets cut out of getting health care,” she said.