U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin defended his vote for the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act during a television interview Friday. He also said he would not advocate for or against the national monument in his congressional district that is being reviewed by the Trump administration.

In a 24-minute interview posted online, Maine’s 2nd District representative told WCSH-TV reporter Don Carrigan that the American Health Care Act would eliminate taxes – including a tax cut for the wealthy and a tax on medical device companies – and ensure coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

“We have to make sure everyone has access to coverage,” said Poliquin, a Republican. “Nobody is denied coverage. That’s in the bill.”

However, Democrats and some health care advocates say the House bill would allow insurers to increase rates on people with pre-existing conditions to the point where coverage would be unaffordable, and that the funding for the so-called high-risk pool would help only a fraction of those people affected.

“I think there’s a lot in (that interview) that is kind of a smokescreen for the fact that people will lose coverage under this plan, if it ends up passing,” said Emily Brostek, executive director of Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a nonprofit that advocates for quality affordable health care.

Asked about his position on the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Poliquin said that no president should be allowed to designate a national monument without the consent of that state’s legislature and that he introduced a bill that would make that a requirement.

Former President Obama created Katahdin Woods and Waters with an executive order in August after Roxanne Quimby’s nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation, donated 87,500 acres just east of Baxter State Park and pledged a $40 million endowment for the project.

When asked repeatedly whether he would advocate for or against the monument in his district while it’s being reviewed by the Trump administration, Poliquin ultimately said he would not.

“I have done my part. It’s in the hands of the executive branch,” he said. “We’ll see what decision (Trump) makes.”

Poliquin said he’s focused on creating jobs in the Katahdin region, including logging and recreational jobs. He encouraged others, such as Gov. Paul LePage, who opposes the designation, to continue to speak out.

“The local people need to speak up, unfortunately, like they did a year ago,” he said.

Poliquin, who reportedly ducked into a bathroom last week to avoid discussing his position on the American Health Care Act ahead of the House vote, said Friday he personally met with President Trump in the Oval Office to discuss the legislation’s potential impact on rural Maine, which makes up the bulk of his 2nd District. He said $138 billion has been allocated over a 10-year period to help people in so-called high-risk pools afford coverage.

“We passed (a bill) that is better for more people and it guarantees that you will have access to health insurance,” he said. “You will not be denied. If you have pre-existing conditions, like my family, you are going to be covered. And tax credits allow you to buy the plan you want, and as you get older those tax credits go up.”

The American Health Care Act was narrowly approved in a 217-213 vote by the House last week. The bill now moves to the Senate, which plans to write its own bill.

Poliquin also said that people will be able to keep the health plans they have under the ACA, as long as insurance companies continue to offer them.

“Folks who are on Obamacare policies, they continue to have those policies, but those that are looking for something different, we are bringing the insurance marketplace back in to hopefully lower the price and make sure we have protections for people with pre-existing conditions and guaranteed issuance,” he said.

Brostek was skeptical of that promise, especially since Obama made a similar claim when selling the ACA, which turned out not to be true. “It seems like a pretty dangerous claim, based on what we saw with Obama,” she said.

Though Poliquin previously has said the American Health Care Act would affect only 7 percent of Mainers – the roughly 80,000 people who receive coverage under the ACA – the measure also cuts some Medicaid programs for low-income people. Maine had about 270,000 people enrolled in the program, known in Maine as MaineCare, as of January. There’s also a provision in the bill that would allow states to let insurers charge more for customers with pre-existing medical conditions.

During the interview Friday, Poliquin defended a provision that would require able-bodied people without children on Medicaid to work, participate in job training or do community service in exchange for the public benefit.

“We have a limited amount of money,” he said. “We want to save Medicaid for those who are blind, disabled, elderly, sick. We need to give the states the options of having a work requirement.”

However, Brostek said the Republican bill includes $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid nationwide that would harm the people Poliquin says he wants to protect. She also pushed back on his assertion that only 7 percent of Mainers would be affected, since the ACA also affected private health plans, including the requirement for no-cost preventive services.

“To say it doesn’t impact people who get their insurance other ways simply isn’t true,” she said. “He either wasn’t acknowledging that or doesn’t understand that part of the law.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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