Rep. Bruce Poliquin says he has lobbied President Trump and House leadership on the Republican health care overhaul bill, urging them during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday to push for increased benefits for those nearing retirement and families living in rural areas.

Maine’s 2nd District congressman said that he wants to ensure that rural Mainers and those between 50 to 64 will be able to buy policies under the American Health Care Act, the bill moving through the Republican-controlled Congress that would replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I am concerned about the current legislation’s impact on those nearing retirement who are not yet on Medicare,” Poliquin said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Today, I urged the White House and House leadership to improve provisions of the bill for those near retirement as it relates to health care costs.”

He said he also pushed for an increase in the new tax credits to help these populations purchase health care insurance in the new market.

Poliquin declined Tuesday to take a stance for or against the GOP legislation. His press secretary, Brendan Conley, said that Poliquin will continue to monitor the progress of the plan as the new health care legislation evolves.

“Because it doesn’t have a current form now, he’s still very closely studying the proposal,” Conley said.

“The congressman is concerned about the current legislation’s impact on those nearing retirement who are not yet on Medicare,” Conley said. “Today he urged the White House and House leadership to improve provisions of the bill for those near retirement as it relates to health care costs. The congressman is continuing to carefully study and push for changes in this health care relief proposal.”

House Republican leaders, eyeing a vote on Thursday, unveiled changes to the legislation this week that they think will win over enough members to secure its passage. Such tweaks include the flexibility it would give states to administer their Medicaid programs to the amount of aid it would offer older Americans to buy insurance.

New provisions now being added to the health care proposal will allow states the option to put in place welfare reforms, which have been implemented successfully in Maine for other programs, Poliquin said in the release.

“These new provisions will give states the flexibility to require non-disabled people without children to work, participate in training programs, or volunteer in order to receive taxpayer-funded Medicaid welfare benefits,” he said. “Maine’s welfare reforms are working and the state, and other states, should have the option to continue these reforms.”

Poliquin’s Maine counterpart in the House, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, opposes the legislation and called it “terrible policy” that Republicans are “just trying to jam … through” without considering the negative consequences.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said last week she opposed the legislation being debated in Congress. Collins is one of a handful of moderates in a divided chamber and is considered a key vote that may determine whether an Obamacare repeal and replacement will be approved.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also opposes the legislation. King has said he thinks it would “harm older middle-class Mainers” and force people to “reach deeper into their pocket to pay for health insurance.”

The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report saying 24 million fewer people would be insured over the next decade under the House GOP bill, compared to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has reduced the rates of the uninsured since it became law in 2010, and 20 million people nationwide now have ACA insurance, either through the marketplace or Medicaid expansion.

About 80,000 Mainers have ACA insurance, although Maine is one of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid, which is a key aspect of the ACA in extending health insurance.

More than 25,000 older Mainers who have Affordable Care Act insurance could pay up to seven times as much for health insurance under the proposed Republican health care bill. Mainers in their 50s and early 60s living in the state’s poorest, most rural counties would be hardest-hit by the GOP bill, according to an analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In his Tuesday news release, Poliquin added that it is important to protect Maine from being penalized based on the decision “not to expand welfare to those who are able-bodied and without children.” He said Maine should have the flexibility to make decisions on how best to operate its Medicaid program. In the past, Maine experienced a debt of nearly $750 million to hospitals as a result of welfare expansion, which was not properly funded, Poliquin said.

Poliquin said he was encouraged with two specific provisions in the original bill that retain coverage for those with pre-existing health conditions and give the option for young adults to stay on their parents’ policies so they can become established in the workforce.

“It is critical that everyone acknowledge that, as we have seen in Maine, Obamacare is failing,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act. “The largest Obamacare health insurance provider in Maine, Community Health Options in Lewiston, lost $58 million just last year. Anthem, one of only two other health insurance companies doing business in Maine, announced it would begin the process to stop writing ObamaCare coverage in 2018 if the collapsing law is not changed. Congress must act to fix these problems. We have no choice.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

[email protected];

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow