U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, met Tuesday with President Donald Trump at the White House, urging him and House leadership to push for increased benefits for those nearing retirement and families living in rural areas.

Maine’s 2nd Congressional District representative said in an afternoon news release Tuesday that he wants to ensure that rural Mainers and those ages 50 to 64 will be able to buy policies under the American Health Care Act, the proposed health care overhaul moving through the Republican-controlled Congress that would replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

In addition to making coverage more affordable and “stopping the individual market from imploding,” Poliquin said in the release that he pushed for an increase in the new tax credits to help these populations purchase health care insurance in the new market.

Poliquin declined on Tuesday to take a formal stance for or against the GOP legislation. His press secretary, Brendan Conley, instead said that as the new health care legislation evolves, Poliquin and the House leadership will continue to monitor the progress of the plan.

“Because it doesn’t have a current form now, he’s still very closely studying the proposal,” Conley said.

“The congressman is concerned about the current legislation’s impact on those nearing retirement who are not yet on Medicare,” Conley said. “Today he urged the White House and House leadership to improve provisions of the bill for those near retirement as it relates to health care costs. The congressman is continuing to carefully study and push for changes in this health care relief proposal.”

House Republican leaders, eyeing a vote on Thursday, this week unveiled changes to the legislation they think will win over enough members to secure its passage. Such tweaks include the flexibility it would give states to administer their Medicaid programs to the amount of aid it would offer older Americans to buy insurance.

New provisions now being added to the health care proposal will allow states the option to put in place welfare reforms, which have been implemented successfully in Maine for other programs, Poliquin said in the release.

“These new provisions will give states the flexibility to require non-disabled people without children to work, participate in training programs, or volunteer in order to receive taxpayer-funded Medicaid welfare benefits,” he said. “Maine’s welfare reforms are working and the state, and other states, should have the option to continue these reforms.”

Poliquin’s Maine counterpart in the House, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, opposes the legislation and called it “terrible policy” that Republicans are “just trying to jam … through” without considering the negative consequences.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said last week she opposes the legislation being debated in Congress. Collins is one of a handful of moderates in a divided chamber and is considered a key vote that may determine whether an Obamacare repeal and replacement will be approved.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also opposes the legislation. King has said he thinks it would “harm older middle-class Mainers” and force people to “reach deeper into their pocket to pay for health insurance.”

In a news release issued after Poliquin’s, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett criticized the congressman’s stance, as well as the health care legislation generally.

“Bruce Poliquin didn’t seem to care about the thousands of people in his district this bill would hurt when he first (toed) the party line to praise it,” said Bartlett, referring to Poliquin’s statement after the bill’s initial release that the new health care plan would “bring much-needed health insurance relief to the American people.”

Bartlett said Poliquin “stayed slient” for more than two weeks while the bill was being debated, and he called Poliquin’s meeting with Trump “nothing but a stunt to make it seem like he cares while supporting his leadership.”

Meanwhile, Maine Republican Party Chair Demi Kouzounas said in a news release that both Poliquin and Gov. Paul LePage have both been urging members of Congress to improve the ObamaCare replacement legislation, and “I commend both of these Maine leaders for working to improve the plan.”

“It is critical that Maine not be penalized for not expanding welfare, in the form of Medicaid, to non-disabled people,” Kouzounas said in the release. “Maine faced a massive hospital debt left behind by the last governor as a result of expanded welfare, which was not funded. It took a creative plan put forward by Governor LePage to pay off that debt.”

Kouzounas also pointed to reports that Maine and other states could be aided by block grants that would allow state leaders, “not bureaucrats in Washington, to make more decisions on how best to use Medicaid funds within our state to benefit the most needy.”

“Furthermore the successes seen in Maine’s welfare reforms may be applied to the nation in urging work provisions for those who are not disabled and do not have children if they are to receive welfare benefits under Medicaid,” Kouzounas said in the release. “These are positive steps.”

The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report saying 24 million fewer people would be insured over the next decade under the House GOP bill, compared to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has reduced the rates of the uninsured since it became law in 2010, and 20 million people nationwide now have ACA insurance, either through the marketplace or Medicaid expansion.

About 80,000 Mainers have ACA insurance, although Maine is one of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid, which is a key aspect of the ACA in extending health insurance.

More than 25,000 older Mainers who have Affordable Care Act insurance could pay up to seven times as much for health insurance under the proposed Republican health care bill, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram reported. Mainers in their 50s and early 60s living in the state’s poorest, most rural counties would be hardest-hit by the GOP bill, according to the Telegram analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In his Tuesday news release, Poliquin added that it is important to protect Maine from being penalized based on the decision “not to expand welfare to those who are able-bodied and without children.” He said Maine should have the flexibility to make decisions on how best to operate its Medicaid program. In the past, Maine experienced a debt of nearly $750 million to hospitals as a result of welfare expansion, which was not properly funded, Poliquin said.

“I will continue to push for additional reforms,” Poliquin said in the release. “I am concerned about the current legislation’s impact on those nearing retirement who are not yet on Medicare. Today, I urged the White House and House leadership to improve provisions of the bill for those near retirement as it relates to health care costs.”

Poliquin said he was encouraged with two specific provisions in the original bill that retain coverage for those with pre-existing health conditions and give the option for young adults to stay on their parents’ policies so they can become established in the workforce.

“It is critical that everyone acknowledge that, as we have seen in Maine, ObamaCare is failing,” he said. “The largest ObamaCare health insurance provider in Maine, Community Health Options in Lewiston, lost $58 million just last year. Anthem, one of only two other health insurance companies doing business in Maine, announced it would begin the process to stop writing ObamaCare coverage in 2018 if the collapsing law is not changed. Congress must act to fix these problems. We have no choice.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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