Republican plans to “save” our health care system by destroying big chunks of it appear to have stalled. But the battle is far from over, and Mainers should remember which of their representatives in Washington have been on their side.

The American Health Care Act, which passed the House in May, and the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which is under consideration in the Senate, are two pieces of legislation that attempt to achieve the same goal. What was sold as a “repeal of Obamacare” was really an attack on Medicaid, the 52-year-old program (known here as MaineCare) that looks out for the people who need it most, including two-thirds of nursing home residents, 40 percent of pregnant mothers and millions of children and people with disabilities.

Independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree have been early and outspoken critics of the bill in its several incarnations. But since this has been an entirely partisan effort — where only Republican votes were courted — they have been outside the process. Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins and 2nd District Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, however, had a opportunity to stand up for the people they represent.

Collins proved to be up to the challenge. Soon after Election Day, she voiced opposition to outrageous plans to rush through a sweeping health care reform package in time for President Trump’s inauguration without holding a single public hearing or legislative debate.

She continued to oppose the House bill, and after the Senate version was drafted, she put herself down as an opponent knowing that her party’s leaders had only two votes to spare. Collins’ timely and principled stand made it easier for other moderates to join her in opposition.

Poliquin, on the other hand, stuck with his party’s leaders and supported the bill, even though thousands of his constituents would suffer.


Poliquin ducked questions on the issue for months until he had no choice but to cast a public vote.

Then he repeated Republican talking points that were instantly exposed as false — claiming, for example, that the bill would affect only the 7 percent of Mainers who buy insurance on the individual market, and not the tens of thousands of Mainers on Medicaid, including thousands of his constituents, who would be direct losers.

It’s important to remember that what Poliquin and the others support is not just an attack on the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act, an aspect of the law in which Maine does not participate. But roughly a fifth of Mainers get their health care through traditional Medicaid — and tearing that apart is central to both the House and Senate attempts to repeal the ACA.

Both bills cap federal contributions for the states for their Medicaid programs, rather than paying a share of the costs of caring for each program enrollee. As health care costs climb, the federal share will shrink as a portion of the whole cost, forcing states to cut services. Vice President Mike Pence claims that you can’t call it a cut, because the federal share might actually show a slight increase on a year-over-year basis.

On Sunday, Collins would have none of it. “I would respectfully disagree with the vice president’s analysis,” she said on CNN. “You can’t take more than $700 billion out of the program and not think that it’s going to have some kind of effect.”

It’s unclear now whether the Better Care Reconciliation Act will ever come up for a vote in the Senate. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was hospitalized for emergency surgery to remove a blood clot near his brain, so the vote has been postponed. As details of the bill come forward, more senators have echoed Collins’ concerns.

But regardless of what happens next, Mainers should remember where Collins and Poliquin stood when their voices mattered most.

When the question was, “Should millions of low and moderate income Americans lose their health insurance to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy?” Collins said “no,” and Poliquin said “yes.”

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