Shortly after House Republican leaders decided Thursday to postpone a vote on controversial legislation that would overhaul the nation’s health care system, U.S. Sen. Angus King, independent of Maine, said he would lead a discussion Friday in Skowhegan to talk about “how the bill and its proposed amendments would set back the battle against the opioid epidemic.”

In a statement, King said he would convene the discussion at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Redington-Fairview General Hospital, inviting health care providers and hospital officials.

King, who opposes the GOP bill, called the legislation “bad” and “shortsighted” because “it strips tens of thousands of Maine people of their health insurance, skyrockets costs for older, working class folks — especially in northern and Downeast Maine, and deals a blow to our fight against the opioid epidemic, which is taking the lives of our family, friends, and loved ones.”

At the Skowhegan event, King said he would “bring together hospital leaders and health care providers to listen to their thoughts on how this bill would affect the ability of people fighting opioid addiction to receive treatment, and in the meantime, I continue to strongly urge my colleagues to abandon this shortsighted repeal effort and, instead, commit to making meaningful improvements to the Affordable Care Act.”

He went on to blast recent changes to the GOP bill that were reportedly being made to meet the demands of conservative lawmakers whose strength in numbers is great enough to block passage of the legislation.

King said the Republicans’ health overhaul bill would eliminate coverage of “essential health benefits” — items and services that are currently required by law to be covered by insurance plans. Such benefits include hospital care, prescription drug coverage, pregnancy and child birth, and coverage for mental health and substance use disorders, including behavioral health treatment. King said that if those benefits are stripped away, then insurance companies “would be able to develop policies in the individual market that would not cover mental health or substance use disorder treatment, or charge astronomical prices for plans that do.”

He also blasted reports that another concession from House GOP leaders would be the elimination a provision that allows young people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, “which, for younger people struggling to fight addiction, could also serve as a significant barrier to them obtaining the treatment they need.”

King said he first would tour Redington-Fairview General Hospital — which is where one of his sons was born — before leading the health care discussion. Officials attending the discussion were to include Gust Stringos, medical director at Redington-Fairview; Dana Kempton, associate director for Redington-Fairview; Suzanne Walsh, CEO of Kennebec Valley Community Action Program; Cheryl Leonard, health navigator for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program; Malory Shaunessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services for Kennebec Behavioral Health; Tom McAdam, CEO of Kennebec Behavioral Health; Mark Sirois, the administrative director of MaineHealth; and Emilie van Eeghen, the chief behavioral health officer at MaineGeneral Health.

King’s talk was also to be live-streamed on his Facebook page.

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