Sen. Susan Collins of Maine appeared Thursday to contradict previous comments she made that her vote for the Republican tax reform proposal that passed in December was based on promises she secured from Republican leaders that Affordable Care Act stabilization measures would be approved.
Collins said the ACA measures were among numerous issues that were important to her, and she told The Hill newspaper that she won important concessions in the tax law that averted an automatic cut to Medicare and included deductions for state and local taxes and medical expenses.
“I was able to prevail on all of those and that was sufficient for me to vote for the bill,” Collins told reporters Thursday. “The idea that this was the one and only issue, and that there was some kind of deal, is not an accurate assessment of what happened.”
Early in December, Collins said she secured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge that two bipartisan bills – both aimed at shoring up the ACA after the loss of the individual mandate – would be passed by year’s end.
At the time, Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said that agreement, and one with President Trump, that the two health care bills would be passed as part of a second continuing resolution to keep the federal government open were solid.
“If this commitment is not kept to me, believe me, there will be consequences. There really will be,” Collins told the Portland Press Herald later that month. “I mean, I can’t not have the commitment happen.”
After the ACA bills that Collins championed weren’t passed as Republican leaders originally had promised, Maine’s senior senator said she received assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan on Dec. 20 that they would be taken up in the new year.
“Speaker Paul Ryan called me and said that the House remains committed to passing legislation to provide for high-risk pools and other reinsurance mechanisms similar to the bipartisan legislation I have introduced,” Collins said. “He pointed out that by waiting until early next year, we will be able to use a new (Congressional Budget Office) baseline that will result in more funding being available for reinsurance programs that have been proven effective in lowering premiums while protecting people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.”
McConnell did not waver in his support for Collins’ measures this week, but Collins said she was “disappointed” in Ryan, R-Wisconsin, for not adding her bill to lower premiums in the spending measure now before Congress.
“I’m very disappointed in the speaker for giving in to the objections of Nancy Pelosi,” Collins was quoted as saying by The Hill.
LAST-MINUTE APPEAL FOR PASSAGE
On Thursday afternoon, Collins made a last-minute pitch on the Senate floor to include the ACA measures attached to an omnibus spending bill needed to avoid a partial government shutdown, but it appeared unlikely the provisions would make it into the House version of the bill.
“We must not lose sight of the goal, and that is making health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans,” Collins said during her 28-minute floor speech. “Including our insurance package in the Omnibus is the right thing to do, and it is urgent that we do it now.”
Collins’ efforts did not deter Democrats from criticizing her support for the tax bill without gaining approval of the ACA bills.
“Not only did Senator Collins fail to follow through on her promises, but she gave away tax breaks to the rich that should have gone to middle-class Mainers and now she’s sticking us with the bill in the form of higher health care premiums,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement Thursday. “She should have just voted against this fiasco last December rather than deciding that making nice with President Trump was more important than advancing better policy for Mainers. But because of her bad judgment and her bad deal for Mainers, we’re now stuck having to deal with the consequences.”
Clark, Collin’s spokeswoman, pushed back on the Democrats’ criticism.
“The partisan talking points from the Maine Democratic party are typical of what we have come to expect from them,” Clark said. “They have opposed much-needed tax relief for Maine families and now they are opposing a good faith proposal to help lower the cost of health insurance because they care more about their special interest donors than they do about hard-working Maine taxpayers.”
Rebecca London, the Maine director of Protect Our Care, a national coalition, also criticized Collins’ decisions.
“Senator Collins cast her vote in December, based on promises from Republican leadership, without knowing for certain that commitments made would be honored. As we saw this week, they weren’t,” London said in an email.
As as result of House actions, London said Mainers can expect higher premiums and less coverage.
OPPOSITION IN BOTH POLITICAL PARTIES
The House refused to put the ACA measures in the bill after objections by conservative Republicans over “bailouts” for insurance companies and by Democrats opposed to restrictions in the bill limiting abortion coverage.
But Collins said the Senate should include them.
“It is the right thing to do and it is urgent we do it now,” Collins said on the Senate floor.
Collins said the ACA stabilization will include funding the “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurance companies that the Trump administration ended last year, plus $30 billion over three years for reinsurance, which would help reduce premiums by “up to 40 percent.”
“Let me be crystal clear. Our proposal is the last opportunity to prevent these rate increases from going into effect,” Collins said. “Our package will help to stabilize the insurance markets and make them more competitive.”
The official Congressional Budget Office report on the ACA measures, released this week, showed that although those earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level – about $81,000 for a family of three – would see their premiums decrease if the Collins-led measures were included in the omnibus, many earning under that amount who qualify for subsidies under the ACA would see premium increases.
Collins noted, however, that the bronze plans only lower people’s health care costs if they don’t get sick or hurt. If they need medical attention, while their premiums may have increased modestly, their out-of-pocket health care costs would be substantially lower under her plan.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, made a last-minute pitch to get health care measures attached to an omnibus spending bill on Thursday.