Several hundred people packed a town hall-style forum Sunday afternoon in Portland to share with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, their concerns, anger and anxiety over a Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
A number of Pingree’s constituents told personal stories of life-saving treatment they received because of insurance coverage under the health care law known as Obamacare. Others vented frustration with House Republicans and President Trump and urged Pingree and other Democrats take a firmer stance against both.
“We’re all screaming at the top of our lungs, we are out in the streets and we are being ignored,” said Beth Bacon of Brunswick.
The forum, held at King Middle School, also included representatives from AARP Maine, Planned Parenthood, the Maine Medical Association and Consumers for Affordable Healthcare. Every panel member had the same message: If passed, the Republican plan under consideration in the House would increase insurance costs, leave some people without access to affordable health care, and erode government programs like Medicare and Medicaid that many Mainers rely on.
“It will do everything Americans don’t want,” said Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care.
“While the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, it has been good for Maine,” Brostek added. “Going backwards isn’t an option.”
Those attending the forum were a friendly audience for Pingree, who received a standing ovation when she took the stage.
In an interview afterward, Pingree said she has yet to hear from anyone who supports the House Republican proposal.
“We have been waiting for someone to call our office and tell us they like it,” Pingree said.
The Republican bill would dismantle key provisions of the Affordable Care Act passed during former President Obama’s first term. It would remove the unpopular individual mandate that imposed fines on people who didn’t have health insurance, and would give people tax credits instead of subsidies to purchase insurance. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, up to 24 million people could lose health insurance under the bill by 2026, and younger Americans would pay less for insurance than older Americans.
The proposal could increase costs for Mainers. People in their 50s and 60s who live in rural parts of the state could pay seven times more for health care under the plan, according to a Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of data from the CBO and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine has said the state would be hurt by the House bill, while Republican Sen. Susan Collins has her own concerns with it. The proposal also has opponents on the right, including Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is against it because it would not halt Medicaid expansion quickly enough.
Members of the public who spoke at Sunday’s forum expressed strong opposition to the Republican plan and worried what it would mean for themselves and their families.
Ed Saxby of South Portland said that after he was diagnosed with cancer and had to stop working, the insurance he purchased through the Affordable Care Act was the only way he was able to get the treatment he needed to survive. If the law is repealed without a workable replacement, he will be among tens of thousands who will die within months because of lack of treatment, Saxby said.
“We cannot repeal and not replace, that will be an American genocide,” he said.
Others wanted Pingree to push harder for single-payer health insurance or an expansion of Medicare to all Americans.
“I would much rather hear that than someone trying to save the ACA,” said Paul Cunningham, also of South Portland.
Pingree said she strongly supports a single-payer system, but with Republicans in power in Washington, Democrats are doing everything they can to prevent the House Republican plan from passing.
A vote on the bill could come as soon as Thursday, and it is unlikely Republicans would call for a vote if they thought they were going to lose, Pingree said.
“I have a deep fear it is going to end badly,” she said after the forum.
“I think because the president has staked so much pushing for this and Republicans for the last eight years have been saying ‘repeal, repeal, repeal,’ they have this political ground they don’t want to move from,” Pingree said.
“But I don’t see how this is a workable plan and I don’t see how they survive with their own constituents if they do something that would harm seniors so much and take so many people off of health care.”