Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, walks to the Senate floor ahead of a vote on the health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 27, 2017. Credit: AARON P. BERNSTEIN | REUTERS

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Sunday morning she’s “troubled” by President Donald Trump’s threat to eliminate health insurance subsidies included in the embattled Affordable Care Act.

Collins appeared on NBC’s politics talk show “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning. She was one of three Republican senators to vote against a so-called “skinny repeal” of President Barack Obama’s landmark 2010 health care law Friday, effectively sinking the latest GOP repeal effort in the Senate.

Throwing out the law, also known as Obamacare, has been a top goal of Republicans since it was passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010. The “skinny repeal” sought to overturn just certain parts of the law, and it was billed as a short-term measure just to trigger negotiations with the House to develop a more complete replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

But a Congressional Budget Office analysis found it would have left 16 million uninsured if it was ultimately signed into law.

In a Twitter message on Saturday, Trump said, “if a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

With at least the first part of the tweet, the president is apparently threatening the nearly $8 billion in subsidies the federal government pays to health insurance providers in exchange for the companies’ agreement to reduce costs for lower-income Americans.

When asked on “Meet the Press” if she felt Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services is taking actions to “undermine” the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act in its implementation of the law, as a way of forcing lawmakers to repeal or replace it, Collins said the subsidies are not “bailouts” for insurance companies.

She said the subsidies are an important measure to control insurance costs for people with incomes between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

“I’m troubled by the uncertainty that has been created by the administration” by questioning the subsidies, Collins said, adding that the month-to-month uncertainty about the subsidies is “contributing to the destabilization of insurance markets.”

In Maine, the question over whether Trump will stop paying the subsidies is at least one reason three major insurance providers say they’re proposing double-digit rate increases under for its Obamacare plans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who also was doing the rounds on the Sunday political talk shows, said that no decision has been made on whether to continue key Affordable Care Act subsidies to health-insurance companies, according to Bloomberg News.

But Price said on “Meet the Press” before Collins’ appearance that the administration’s “job is to follow the law of the land” and that “we take that responsibility very seriously and we will continue to do so.”

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Sunday that the president is weighing a move to end subsidies to insurers, something urged this month by a coalition of right-wing groups, according to Bloomberg.

The next subsidy payment is due on Aug. 21.

Collins said that Congress should explicitly appropriate funds to cover the subsidies, a move which would take the decision over whether to pay the insurance companies out of Trump’s hands.

“It really would be detrimental to some of the most vulnerable citizens if those payments were cut off. They’re paid to the insurance companies, but the people that they benefit are people who make between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty rate,” she said on CNN, according to a transcript provided by Collins’ office. “So, we’re talking about low-income Americans who would be devastated if those payments were cut off, though the threat to cut off those payments has contributed to the instability in the insurance market.”

Collins did reiterate that the Affordable Care Act still should be reformed, but maintained it should be through an open and transparent process, featuring public input and expert testimony.

“I don’t accept the premise that we should not proceed to reform the law,” she told “Meet the Press.” “There are some real problems with the law and Secretary Price is right about that.”

GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have been largely planned behind closed doors, and led by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a select group of like-minded colleagues.

At least one recent poll has suggested most Americans are tired of the health care debate and want Congress to move on. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Saturday found that 64 percent of respondents said they wanted to either keep the Affordable Care Act intact “as is” or with some fixes of a few “problem areas.”

Only 29 percent said they wanted Republicans to “continue working on a new healthcare bill” when asked about their priorities for Congress moving forward, with most saying they were more interested in tax reform, foreign relations and infrastructure.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.