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Maine Advocates: Amended Health Care Bill Worse Than Original

Mal Leary
Maine Public
Kay Wilkins of Ellsworth criticizes Rep. Bruce Poliquin's vote on the GOP health bill at an Augusta news conference Thursday.

House Republicans Thursday passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. An earlier version of the bill had failed to garner enough votes, but the addition of two new amendments drew enough support for passage.

Maine health and advocacy organizations say this new bill is even worse than the original.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District was one of the “yes” votes that helped the American Health Care Act, or AHCA, pass in the House. On a conference call before the vote, he told reporters that the bill ensures access to affordable insurance, and he repeated several times that the bill only affects Mainers who buy their insurance on the individual marketplace.

“Ninety-three percent of all Mainers are not affected by this new proposal if it becomes law. Let me repeat that: 93 percent,” he says.

But Emily Brostek of Consumers for Affordable Health Care says the law actually would affect all consumers.

“The bill that was voted on today included changes that would affect everybody’s insurance,” she says. “Getting rid of essential health benefits, that could affect you if you get your coverage at work as well.”

A new amendment to the AHCA would allow states to waive a requirement under Obamacare that insurance companies cover 10 “essential health benefits,” which include prescriptions, hospital stays, maternity care and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The amendment also allows states to waive a requirement that prohibits insurers from charging consumers more based on their health status. That means people with pre-existing conditions can pay higher premiums if they have a lapse in coverage.

Another amendment attempts to solve that problem by allocating extra federal money to cover the cost of higher premiums, but Brostek says it’s not enough.

“We saw estimates that the amount of money Congress is putting into that fund could be as much as $20 billion short a year,” she says.

There’s also concern the AHCA will harm seniors, a claim that Poliquin rejected in his conference call.

“This does not affect our seniors. So I don’t know what the AARP is saying, but they’re not accurate,” he said.

But Lori Parham of AARP Maine says it affects the estimated 25 million older Americans with pre-existing conditions. It also allows insurance companies to charge older consumers five times as much as younger consumers — and states could get a waiver from this “age rating” requirement, which would allow that ratio to be even higher.

“It also removes taxes on certain industries that will impact the future of Medicare. So, not only does this have an impact on people between the ages of 50 and 64 in terms of increases in premiums because the subsidies will not keep up with the age rating included, but it also makes changes to Medicare that impact the future solvency of the program,” she says.

It cuts Medicaid spending by converting it into a block grant program. That affects seniors as well, because Parham says Medicaid is the primary payer for long-term care in Maine.

“I don’t think you can overstate how bad block granting is for a state like Maine,” says Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association.

Michaud says the bill unfairly provides tax relief for some, while hospitals are still grappling with Obamacare’s reduced Medicare reimbursement rates.

“The hypocrisy of rolling back these taxes on well-to-do people or insurance companies and leaving the cuts in place, and acting like that’s OK, that’s our No. 1 priority,” he says.

Another provision of the bill eliminates federal Medicaid reimbursement for Planned Parenthood.

The Congressional Budget Office has not scored this latest iteration of the American Health Care Act. But its analysis of the AHCA before the latest amendments concluded that 24 million people would lose health insurance over the next decade.

The bill will now be considered by the Senate. In a statement released after the vote, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine outlined several questions she says she'll keep in mind as she reviews the bill.

"Although I will carefully review the legislation the House passed today, at this point, there seem to be more questions than answers about its consequences," she says.