Too many questions. Not enough answers. The nation’s new health care reform law has created doubt, if not flat-out fear, in the business community and reactions ranging from skepticism to outrage among the general public.

A recent Washington Post poll revealed that no less than 50 percent of Americans oppose the changes to the health care system that were adopted last month by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. Only 46 percent of those polled voiced support for the law.

The president clearly believes he can change the widespread perception that the law will be bad for the country. He defended the reform plan in his Thursday speech before a mostly friendly and enthusiastic audience at the Portland Expo and dared opponents to use it as a political issue against his fellow Democrats in the fall elections.

“This reform will not solve every problem with our health care system,” Obama said. “It’s not going to bring down the cost of health care overnight. We’ll have to make some adjustments along the way. But it represents enormous progress.”

To be fair, parts of the new law represent a step in the right direction toward solving problems that most of us agree need to be solved, especially the lack of accessibility to health care for millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans.

But at what cost? That’s one of the crucial unanswered questions. Obama has claimed that his $940 billion expansion of health care will not only make insurance available to many who don’t have it but will lead to lower premiums and will reduce federal budget deficits. The evidence backing his claims is slim, at best.

TOO COSTLY

A Congressional Budget Office analysis issued shortly before the bill was approved by the Democratic majority in Congress estimated that the plan could eventually lead to deficit reduction.

Yet many opponents of the bill as written, including Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, question the accuracy of that estimate and also question the long-term affordability of this reform – for individuals, businesses and the nation’s economy.

If the president believes that “we’ll have to make some adjustments along the way,” Snowe has asked on several occasions, why weren’t the adjustments made ahead of time – in an orderly amendment process on the floor of Congress?

Snowe supported – and the MaineToday Media editorial board endorsed – a health care bill approved last year by the Senate Finance Committee.

Snowe was instrumental in constructing the committee version and says she assumed at the time that it was a starting point for bipartisan negotiations that could have led to a better and far less controversial bill – a bill that might have appealed to a majority of Americans.

That’s what we thought, and that was why we supported the Finance Committee bill as a reasonable starting point for the health care debate. But from that point on, the Democratic majority hijacked the process and rushed to judgment with a law that only Obama could love and that many, many Americans could hate.

PLAN FLAWED

Putting aside the horrifying flurry of backroom deals and veritable bribery of Senate and House members that resulted in eventual passage of the law, the plan is flawed – perhaps fatally flawed. It is replete with ill-conceived mandates, ill-advised taxes and fees, and pie-in-the-sky cost projections that could severely harm businesses and potentially defeat the primary purpose of health care reform: making affordable health insurance available to all Americans.

Some opponents have vowed to fight to repeal the law, but repeal seems an unlikely outcome. Far more likely, and doable, is the path Snowe intends to follow: identifying the worst elements of the bill and changing them on a piecemeal basis.

“I’m going to certainly support trying to change things that I think need to be changed in that legislation.” Snowe said while visiting with constituents Thursday around the same time that Obama was singing the law’s praises in Portland. “Some provisions do need to be repealed, so we have to look at it from that standpoint, and I will be working on reforming it. There are some provisions I would like to see go away because they will be onerous.”

Snowe did the right thing by voting against this onerous legislation, as did her Republican colleague from Maine, Sen. Susan Collins.

We’re counting on our senators now to do what they can to help improve a bill that we can only describe as awful.

And there is little time to waste. As months and years go by, many American will begin to view certain provisions of the law as “entitlements.” And once that happens, making changes will be extremely difficult – maybe even impossible.