U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, said Tuesday he does not support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act without replacement legislation.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Poliquin, who already has voted in support of the House’s repeal and replacement bill known as the American Health Care Act, said Congress must have a “viable alternative” ready for enactment to gain his support. His comments came hours before the U.S. Senate narrowly voted Tuesday afternoon on a procedural motion to begin debate on a repeal of Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 legislation.

It’s still not clear what will be in the Senate Republican bill and if it has enough votes to pass. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also has floated the possibility of voting to repeal the ACA without replacement legislation right away.

“In light of what we have seen over the last several months, once again, I cannot support the repeal of the ACA without a viable replacement,” Poliquin said in the statement. “Changes in insurance markets are complex. Many fellow Mainers are impacted either as policy holders or due to the ACA regulations on their private individual or employer coverage. We shouldn’t forget that thousands of Maine families were forced into Obamacare either because of the threat of an IRS penalty, or because their own policies were canceled under Obamacare’s red tape regulations. We simply cannot tell these people they will now have no access to insurance because of inaction by the U.S. Senate.”

Sen. John McCain, who was diagnosed recently with brain cancer, returned to the Senate chamber Tuesday in time for the key procedural vote. While he voted in favor to proceed with debate, McCain suggested he’d vote against existing Senate proposals to replace Obamacare.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Democrats in voting against beginning debate on a repeal of Obamacare, which resulted in a tie vote broken by Vice President Mike Pence to proceed with debate.

Collins has said she’s firmly opposed to Senate Republicans’ current bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, saying it would have a devastating effect on Medicaid recipients, rural hospitals and older Mainers with ACA insurance.

Brendan Conley, press secretary for Poliquin, would not say Tuesday if there was a version of Senate Republican proposals to replace the ACA that Poliquin supports. Instead, he pointed to Poliquin’s statement on what he would like to see as an alternative to the ACA, including the congressman’s 14-point “free market solution to fix Obamacare, which he introduced in his very first months in office in 2015.”

In 2015, when Obama was still in office, Poliquin was among just three House Republicans who voted against the chamber’s 56th attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a vote that drew criticism from libertarian-leaning conservative groups. The Republican Liberty Caucus pulled its 2014 endorsement of Poliquin, saying in a statement that it was “stunned and disappointed” by his vote. The Campaign for Liberty said Poliquin violated a pledge he had made after answering “yes” to a survey question that asked if he would vote for bills that “will repeal or defund” the law.

In his Tuesday statement, Poliquin said at the time of that 2015 vote he was against the ACA because it’s “hurting jobs, hurting our families, limiting choices,” yet he needed “to see a tangible, free-market replacement and this bill does not give us that.”

“Current discussions in the Senate include passing a repeal without a replacement, and sending it back to the House. Others are suggesting the House vote, once again, for a repeal without a replacement,” the congressman’s Tuesday statement says. “Congressman Poliquin opposes these ideas.”

Poliquin goes on to blast the ACA’s “rapid expansion of the medical welfare program, called Medicaid,” as being unsustainable, while also blasting suggestions of a “single-payer” system as “a complete government takeover of our health care system” that is “a bad idea.”

“Job-killing taxes and layers of regulations should not be the standard by which health insurance is measured,” Poliquin says in the statement. “Government needs to support a sustainable free market system which lowers the cost of health insurance by providing incentives for providers to compete for our business. This will result in more plan choices and lower costs.

“We need to ensure we have a plan in place, a glide path, to a new fiscally responsible and sustainable solution,” he adds. “Repeal without replace does not accomplish that mission.”

Poliquin was reportedly among those speaking with President Donald Trump at the White House this spring when the House began crafting its health legislation. But amid the build-up to the House vote, which initially was delayed over lack of support, Poliquin refused to take a stance until just hours before voting in favor of the final House bill.

Health care advocates in Maine have condemned the House health bill, saying that if it becomes law it would drive up insurance costs, cause many people to lose coverage and create turmoil in the nation’s health care system. The advocates say it especially would hurt people who are older and live in rural parts of the country by increasing premiums up to seven times what they’re currently paying under Obamacare.

In a conference call with reporters before the House vote, Poliquin said the bill affects “only the 7 percent of Maine residents who have Obamacare policies,” or roughly 80,000 people, but that claim isn’t true. The bill as drafted still includes cuts to Medicaid, and there is a provision that could allow private insurers to alter their coverage plans as well.

Conley on Tuesday pushed back against the asserton that the 7 percent figure is inaccurate.

“Congressman Poliquin was accurate in that 93 percent of Maine people do not have Obamacare policies, and the bill he voted on increases, not cuts, Medicaid spending in real cash dollars year-after-year,” Conley said in an emailed statement. “Welfare Medicaid was not expanded in Maine, and the real dollar increases provide support for Maine’s most needy.”

 

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