Sen. Susan Collins says the 13 Republican senators charged with drafting a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act are unlikely to succeed.

“The committee (that) Republican leadership has convened is going to produce a partisan bill,” Collins, a Republican, said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald this week. “I disagreed when President Obama produced a partisan bill (the ACA in 2009). That’s not the best way for Republicans to legislate now.”

Collins, who was left out of the all-male group, is working with a moderate group of Democratic and Republican senators on a bipartisan alternative.

On May 4, the House narrowly approved a health care bill that would replace the ACA. If it became law, the American Health Care Act likely would result in millions losing health care coverage, skyrocketing premiums for older and rural residents, and weakened protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

The measure has now gone to the Senate, which has said it will work on its own plan rather than using the House bill as a framework. Republicans have promised for seven years to replace the ACA, and now have control of both houses of Congress and the presidency.

Sen. Susan Collins says she’s had a meeting with a bipartisan group of 10 senators that includes centrist Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Reuters/Yuri Gripas

But with a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, moderates like Collins have influence – and their votes – to wield.

Collins opposed the ACA when it came up for a vote in 2009, but also has said she does not support the House bill, saying she wants to craft a plan that provides Americans with more health care coverage than Obamacare, not less.

About 20 million Americans have acquired insurance through the ACA, either through Medicaid expansion or individual marketplace insurance. Uninsured rates have declined nationally from about 18 percent in 2013 before the ACA went into effect to 11 percent in 2016, according to Gallup polls. In Maine, about 80,000 people have ACA insurance.

Collins and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, held an hour-long private meeting Monday with a group of 10 senators that included centrist Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Despite a heightened partisan atmosphere in Congress, Collins said in the interview Tuesday that she is “encouraging people to work together.”

“It’s worth a try,” she said.

No future meetings of the bipartisan group have yet been scheduled, Collins’ office said.

‘NO’ ON ONE PLAN, PURSUING ANOTHER

Meanwhile, Collins said she is a likely “no” vote on the American Health Care Act if it were to come up for a vote in the Senate.

She was opposed to a similar bill in March, but is waiting for the official Congressional Budget Office “scoring” report on the latest version before saying for certain whether she will oppose it. Among other things, the CBO report will include estimates of the cost and the impact on the insured.

Collins said she’s deeply concerned about cuts to Medicaid and how the bill would disproportionately hurt rural Mainers.

In January, Collins and Cassidy unveiled an ACA replacement bill that is much more centrist than the House bill. It keeps most of the ACA’s funding in place and allows states, if they choose, to keep the ACA as is in their state, or opt into an alternative plan that includes pre-funded health savings accounts.

The Cassidy-Collins bill would keep many of the ACA’s preventive care provisions, such as free colonoscopies, mammograms, immunizations, annual checkups and birth control.

“The meeting wasn’t just about Cassidy-Collins. We talked about a host of other ideas,” Collins said. “It was really to get the impressions from some of our colleagues, and an opportunity for a group of us to work together for a bipartisan approach to health care.”

Manchin, according to a CNN report this week, said there were “some good ideas thrown out and talked about.”

“There’s no way I can vote for a repeal,” Manchin said, according to CNN. “It was mostly to see, is there a way forward without repealing? Is there a way forward without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?”

SEN. KING ATTACKS REPUBLICAN PROPOSAL

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, said he’s interested in improving the ACA, and has praised Collins’ efforts to bridge differences.

“Senator King continues to believe that implementing meaningful reforms to the Affordable Care Act, rather than repealing it wholesale, will best serve people throughout Maine and the nation. To that end, he is always interested in and hopeful about potential bipartisan approaches to problems,” Scott Ogden, a King spokesman, said in a written statement.

King lambasted the House Republican plan on the Senate floor Wednesday, calling it an “anti-health care bill.” He particularly rebuked the Medicaid funding cuts that would slash funding by $880 billion over 10 years nationally, putting programs for children, low-income seniors and the disabled at risk.

“They’re giving states flexibility to make decisions between funding programs for the elderly and programs for children, between cutting off programs for opioid (treatment) and support for people who are disabled,” King said. “That’s not flexibility. That’s just passing agonizing choices off to the states.”

Howard Cody, an emeritus professor of political science with the University of Maine, said the Cassidy-Collins bill is “much better” than the House bill, but it almost certainly won’t become law.

Cody said Democrats and left-leaning independents like King want to keep the Affordable Care Act, and are not going to vote for anything that weakens it further. Meanwhile, a centrist bill that clears the Senate would not pass muster with House conservatives.

“I don’t see how it could pass the House,” Cody said.

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

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