Susan Collins says votes promised on bills to stabilize ACA won’t happen until 2018

The ACA bills backed by Sen. Susan Collins would slow premium increases and help health insurers stay in the individual marketplace. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Susan Collins announced Wednesday that crucial Affordable Care Act stabilization bills will be delayed until 2018 despite the promises she received from Republican leaders that they would be approved by the end of this year. Collins had emphasized passage of the two bills to secure her vote for the tax reform bill.

“I think the policy is more important than the deadline, and the deadline is slipping. And I am the first to say that I am not happy about that, that I’m disappointed about that,” Collins, a moderate Republican, told the Portland Press Herald in an interview Wednesday. “But I believe that at the end of the day, we’re going to end up where I want us to be – in fact, maybe even with a better bill.”

Progressives immediately attacked Collins, arguing that Maine’s senior senator is being bamboozled in a deal that Republican leadership never intended to keep.

“So much for those ‘ironclad promises,’ ” said Christina Foster of Peaks Island Indivisible, a liberal advocacy group. “I can’t tell if she got played, or if she’s playing us.”


As Congress was mulling tax reform, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised Collins in a Dec. 1 exchange on the Senate floor that the two ACA bills would be voted on “ideally” before the tax reform vote and “certainly” by the end of the year.

But hours after voting for the sweeping $1.5 trillion tax package Wednesday, Collins said in a written statement that she and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, were voluntarily withdrawing the two ACA stabilization bills from consideration this year, and that the bills will be taken up by Congress next year.

Collins’ announcement came a day after she called media coverage of her support for the tax overhaul “unbelievably sexist,” citing a report that noted she didn’t cry after meeting with protesters who had grave medical conditions.

Collins opposed repealing the ACA’s individual mandate as part of the tax reform package without also passing laws to mitigate the harm that would do to insurance markets. Independent health policy analysts have said that – at a minimum – the bills, especially the Collins-Nelson reinsurance bill, would temporarily alleviate the blow to insurance markets caused by repealing the mandate.

The individual mandate – which requires people who don’t have coverage through an employer to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty – helps keep premiums down because it gets more young and healthy people into insurance pools.

Republicans added the mandate repeal into the tax reform bill this fall after previous attempts to repeal the entire ACA failed. This summer, Collins was one of three Republicans to buck her party, successfully saving the ACA in a dramatic vote in July, and she also helped deep-six another attempt in the early fall by announcing her opposition to full repeal.

Collins’ vote is sought after in a closely divided Senate, where Republicans have a 52-48 majority that will slip to 51-49 after Alabama Democrat Doug Jones is seated in January. Jones upset Republican Roy Moore in a Dec. 12 special election.

Collins – even though she spoke against adding ACA individual mandate repeal to tax reform – was in favor of the tax bill overall, saying it will boost the economy.


Conservative Republicans and President Trump have a long-stated goal of repealing the ACA, which was championed by former Democratic President Barack Obama.

Short of a full repeal, removing the individual mandate eliminates a key component of the law, a fact cheered by Trump and McConnell this week.

Collins, in the Press Herald interview Wednesday, contended that she still has commitments of support for the bills from McConnell, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Collins said she spoke with Ryan for 25 minutes Wednesday to shore up his support. Ryan made positive comments to her about the future of the bills, Collins said in her statement.

“(Wednesday) afternoon 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.”

Collins said Senate Democrats, by objecting to the bills being inserted into an end-of-year budget package, and conservative Republicans in the House, who have spoken up against the ACA bills, were both at fault for the delay of her bills.

“It’s both. There’s no doubt about it,” Collins said. “In the Senate, it was the Democrats. In the House, it was the Republicans. But my point is, I’m not giving up on this. These bills are too important.”


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in Nov. 15 statements on the Senate floor that repealing the mandate for the Alexander-Murray bill, which restores cost-sharing payments to insurers, is a “dark trade-off.”

“Any Republican senator who thinks they can (repeal) the individual mandate and then turn around and get Murray-Alexander passed is dead wrong. It is clear the dark trade-off at the center of the Republican policy agenda is back, cutting health care in order to fund tax giveaways to the very wealthy and very powerful. Democrats will not go for it,” Schumer said.

A Trump spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Politico website Wednesday that the White House is behind Collins’ efforts on the two ACA bills and is working with the House to make it happen.

“The president is grateful for the opportunity to work with Sen. Collins on this, and he is committed to following through on our agreement,” the senior White House official told Politico.

Collins and Alexander said in a written statement that the ACA bills would likely be taken up as part of a spending package early next year.

The tax reform bill, which was approved by the House and Senate this week and now awaits Trump’s signature to become law, is projected to increase the national debt by $1 trillion over 10 years even after accounting for economic growth generated by the tax cuts. It permanently slashes the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and reduces taxes for individuals for nine years.

Liberals have argued that the tax cuts are skewed heavily in favor of the wealthy and will harm the economy and the health care system, while conservatives point to business growth as a benefit of the bill.


Collins’ statements on the timing of the votes for the ACA stabilization bills have shifted over the past few weeks.

During a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington on Nov. 30, she was widely quoted as saying she expected that the ACA bills would be voted on before tax reform.

“So I’m going to know whether those provisions made it and that matters hugely to me,” Collins said at the breakfast, according to The Hill newspaper.

In a Dec. 14 meeting with progressive activists at her Washington office, Collins said she used her leverage to extract promises from Republican leadership that the bills would be taken up by the end of 2017.

“What I’m telling you is I believe the commitments that I’ve received,” Collins told Ady Barkan, a health care activist who has ALS, according to video posted on Barkan’s twitter account. “I used my leverage to negotiate these agreements that are promises to me.”

Maine liberals were deeply skeptical, saying Collins lost her leverage after tax reform passed Wednesday.

Phil Bartlett, Maine Democratic Party chairman, slammed Collins for “broken promises” that will lead to instability in insurance markets and fewer people with health care coverage.

“Senator Collins can spin this massive mistake however she wants, but the simple truth is this: She broke her promise to the people of Maine and now they are once again left holding the bag,” Bartlett said in a written statement.

Rebecca London, with Protect Our Care, a progressive health advocacy group, said in a statement that Collins “failed to deliver on her promises, or never intended to.”

“After casting a vote for health care repeal in the middle of the night, Susan Collins finally admitted what everyone not in GOP leadership has been saying for months: That her promises weren’t worth the paper they were written on,” London said.

About 13 million fewer Americans would have health insurance if the mandate were repealed, and premiums would increase by 10 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Health policy experts have said the ACA stabilization bills – especially the Collins-Nelson bill that would pay for $10 billion in reinsurance over two years – would alleviate premium increases and help insurance companies stay in the individual marketplace. How much they would help depends on the analysis – some predict they would completely offset the premium increases, while others project more modest benefits.

Collins-Nelson provides funding for two years, so all analysts have concluded that the benefits from passing that bill end after two years.

Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz contributed to this report.

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

Twitter: joelawlorph

  • FrankE

    You would think that of all people, a Republican would know enough than to trust a Republican.

    Donald Trump has an excuse for his bizarre behavior, mental imbalance, What’s Collins excuse?
    Paul Ryan made it more than clear long before the second vote, that Collins was not going to receive her little token bills. They initially agreed to them just to secure a yes vote, just as they did for several other Senators. I don’t think it matters though, Things are getting so bad in the GOP that implosion isn’t out of the question. There is no way we can maintain this sort of leadership in Washington. This tax theft is the only Legislative victory(?) in the entire year.for Trump. Nothing substantial has been accomplished for the good of the country. On top of that we are facing a Government shut down, what are they going to pass funding for another week? Trump has his cross hairs on the Special Prosecutor. He’s to stupid to realize the consequences of firing Meuller, He thinks if he does it during the Christmas break, he can get away with it. I say it would be the end of Trump period. We can only hope.

    Finally, Merry Christmas to the millions of folks who will lose their health insurance due to this tax grab. Hey they can’t make everyone happy…………………

  • MaineCWP

    Nobody Has Seen The Obamacare ‘Stability Deal,’ Probably Because It’ll Make Voters Postal.

    Senators Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander are apparently engaging in a bidding war over how many billions of taxpayer dollars to spend on corporate welfare to insurance companies.

  • FrankE

    What am I missing here? I just watched Trump bragging about totally repealing the ACA. I know this is a lie that only one segment was eliminated. The fact is The House and Senate needed to repeal “Obama Care” before tackling the tax issue. I guess Trump feels that 15 million people cut from their insurance coverage is close enough. The ACA is still running strong unless of course your a Republican insider.
    This whole mess has to stop soon. If something catastrophic were to happen, There is no one in the White House capable of dealing responsibly with it. We’ve been lucky thus far.
    I say that contrary to Trumps assertion that the military needs to be rebuilt is ridiculous, we need a capable President in the Oval Office. Trump is unfit for the job and his mental status is severely compromised…………………

    • Raylan125

      Without people being forced to buy something they do not want, it will collapse and we can return back to having great healthcare again, instead of failed government bureaucracy and death panels deciding who lives and who dies.

      • FrankE

        Just exactly when did we ever have great health care? Before the ACA what we had for Health insurance was a joke, unless you were fortunate enough to have it through your employer. The reason was skyrocketing premiums and exorbitant medical costs. Before the ACA many poor and single people the unemployed and some elderly had no health insurance. They were forced to seek treatment at the emergency room(Republican HealthCare). This ended up costing all of us. Had the ACA been allowed to work, it would have eliminated that problem. As it has shown right up to today, Millions of people have insurance that never would have had it before. So please explain what was so good before the ACA?. Also just how did these “death panels” originate? You do realize those were proven to be outright lies, only the truly ignorant still believe they ever existed…………

      • beanboy

        Trump will do that with medicare,medicaid cutbacks. The “Death Panels are coming back
        The Republican tax bill will end cancer treatment for Medicare patients

        • Raylan125

          YOu are posting links to lie-filled democrat web sites. Totally not believable.

          • beanboy

            You in for a big surprise pal. Not believable because all you would get on a pro Trump conservative site is praise and bull

  • Raylan125

    We don’t want Obama-care “stabilized” you stuttering stooge, we want it gone.

    • beanboy

      Trump on the Campaign Trail…..”We’ll make it bigger and better”

  • bob Mennealy

    Collins sold out Maine,+ Obama care gave millions health care that they other wise wouldn’t have:what’s wrong with that?