Despite her push to delay efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins joined her Republican colleagues early Thursday to adopt a budget plan that would end the program and remove the threat of a filibuster by opponents of the move.

Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, said the Senate “made a serious mistake tonight” in its 1:30 a.m. adoption of the measure on a party line 51-48 vote.

King said the move “will have disastrous consequences for tens of thousands of people in Maine and millions more across the country,” including more than 75,000 Mainers who get their insurance through the program, popularly called Obamacare.

Collins has taken the position that Republicans, who control both houses of Congress and will soon hold the White House, shouldn’t end the health care program until they can offer a replacement program.

“Some of the ACA’s provisions – especially its consumer protections – enjoy bipartisan support and should be retained,” she said in a statement Collins entered into the record. However, she added, “its Washington-centric approach must be changed if we are ever to truly reform our broken health care system.”  

President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday that he intends to offer an alternative that could be voted on “essentially simultaneously” to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He has often said it will be cheaper and better, but he hasn’t mentioned any details.

The measure adopted by the Senate says it plans to replace the ACA with “reforms that strengthen Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

It said it can do that “without prioritizing able-bodied adults over the disabled or children and lead to patient-centered, step-by-step health reforms that provide access to quality, affordable private health care coverage for all Americans and their families.”

In doing so, it said, it would increase competition, give states more flexibility and promote individual choice while “safeguarding consumer protections that Americans support.”

The budget blueprint that won approval is a reconciliation bill that lays out spending-related items and can’t be filibustered, effectively depriving Senate Democrats from prevailing unless they can sway at least a few GOP lawmakers. The measure, which is not a law but merely guidance for Congress itself, gives congressional committees until Jan. 27 to come up with repeal language to end Obamacare.

Collins said she would have preferred a later date, but added that she has “received assurances from Senate leaders that the Jan. 27 date is not binding and that there is a shared commitment that we will take the time necessary to proceed thoughtfully with legislative reforms to replace and reform the ACA.”

Passage would permit follow-up legislation to escape the threat of a filibuster by Senate Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Maine Republican, said he will support the reconciliation measure when it comes before the House on Friday.

Looking ahead, Poliquin said, “I will support the actual repeal of the Obamacare law if the replacement includes coverage for pre-existing health conditions and keeping those 26 years old or younger on their parents’ plans.”

He added, “Any replacement law must also eliminate job-killing taxes and regulations such as the medical device tax. I will thoroughly and carefully evaluate every proposed replacement law with these in mind.”

King said the move would “substantially harm rural hospitals” across Maine and make health care more difficult to get.

“I’m deeply concerned that it will jeopardize people’s lives,” King said, vowing that he will seek “every opportunity to fight this bad bill and I also continue to hope that my colleagues will abandon this misguided push and, instead, put politics aside and work together to fix the law.”

Collins said Tuesday that “repeal and replacement is a complicated task” and insisted her chief concern is to make sure there is no gap in coverage for people who rely on Obamacare for their insurance.

The Center for Budget Policy and Priorities estimates 95,000 people in Maine could lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed. More than 20 million Americans rely on the program.

Before adopting the measure, GOP senators shot down a long list of proposed amendments from Democrats, including a bid by King to ensure access to affordable health insurance for people who work in high-risk occupations such as forestry, farming, fishing and public safety.

“This is a disappointing blow to people who work in rural communities across Maine — our state’s fishermen, our farmers, or our forestry workers, just to name a few,” King said on the Senate floor.

“Our state’s economy, indeed, its identity, is centered around folks like these who work hard day-in and day-out and want nothing more than to do their job, do it well, and not have to worry about whether an accident or an illness is going to leave them stranded high-and-dry,” he said. “By not approving this amendment, the Senate has failed to meet its obligation to help them. But I will not.”

Collins and one other GOP senator did support an amendment that fell short. It sought to shield Medicare and Medicaid from the effort to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.


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