Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine was joined by health care advocates Friday morning in denouncing the Republican bill approved by the House that experts say could strip health insurance from millions of people, cause skyrocketing premiums for older, rural Mainers and slash Medicaid, among other changes.

The bill, which passed by a slim majority Thursday, would repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, and replace it with the plan championed by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Pingree, who represents the 1st District, held a news conference at her offices on the Portland waterfront Friday, and was accompanied by Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, and officials representing doctors, patients and Planned Parenthood.

While not calling out Rep. Bruce Poliquin by name, Pingree assailed an incorrect statement Maine’s 2nd District congressman made when he said the American Health Care Act would affect only 7 percent of Mainers. Poliquin attempted to minimize the bill’s reach several times in a conference call with reporters prior to the vote Thursday.

“This is going to have a huge impact across the state,” Pingree said.

The bill’s Medicaid cuts, weakening of pre-existing condition laws, impact on employer plans, and financial cuts to hospitals, plus other reforms, would affect a wide swath of Mainers.

About 80,000 Mainers have insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and more than 260,000 have insurance through Medicaid, most of them children, adults with disabilities and low-income seniors who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

For Liz Harmon, a Brooksville lobsterwoman, having Medicaid is a matter of life and death for her 4-year-old son, Orin, who was born with a severe heart defect, and has severe asthma and allergies. Harmon hasn’t been able to work as much since Orin was born because of all the surgeries and health care, which he will need the rest of his life, and she estimates their health care bills would top $500,000 if they didn’t have Medicaid.

“We would be bankrupt if we didn’t have Medicaid. Just Orin’s medications cost thousands of dollars per month,” said Harmon, who brings Orin lobstering whenever possible. “To see Donald Trump upset the apple cart drives me nuts.”

How to cut Medicaid would be left to the states, but about 75-80 percent of Medicaid recipients in Maine are children, disabled adults or low-income seniors, according to Maine Equal Justice Partners, an Augusta advocacy group that supports Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion is on the ballot in Maine this fall, but if the AHCA is approved, the expansion would end in a few years.

Brostek said the bill is a “disaster” for Maine and the country.

“This bill does almost everything that Americans say they hate and don’t want,” Brostek said.

Maine and other states could attempt to reduce premiums by opting out of essential health benefits mandated in health plans by the Affordable Care Act, but then insurance companies would not have to cover costs for services such as mental health therapy, hospitalization, maternity care and chronic disease management. So people who have to use those services could end up facing sky-high medical bills.

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, a group that represents doctors, said Maine has a large number of people who are old, poor, sick and female, the groups harmed by the House Republican bill.

“This bill is bad for the very people government is supposed to be helping,” Smith said. “This bill is not about 7 percent. This bill will affect every one of us.”

Smith said, for instance, that if hospitals have to treat higher numbers of uninsured people, that drives up insurance rates for people with private insurance. Hospitals by law are required to treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

Smith said rural Mainers and rural hospitals would be under intense financial pressure under the AHCA. Older, rural Mainers would pay up to seven times more in premiums in some rural parts in Maine, with premiums increasing from about $200 to $300 per month to $1,300 per month, the Kaiser Family Foundation said.

Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said women will suffer the consequences of provisions in the bill that would roll back protections in the ACA that keep women from being charged more for health care.

“This bill is terrible,” Clegg said. “It’s terrible in particular for women.”

The bill, which cuts taxes for the wealthy, now goes to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future and already has come under criticism by both Democrats and moderate Republicans. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key moderate, is waiting for an upcoming Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House bill before taking a position, but she was opposed to a previous version of the bill that failed to garner enough support for a House vote in March.

Collins and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, have sponsored an alternative bill that allows states to keep the Affordable Care Act if they like it.

Pingree said perhaps a bipartisan solution will be found, and noted that Collins and Maine’s independent senator, Angus King, are known for consensus building between parties.

“A week is a long time in politics,” Pingree said. “Anything can happen.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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