If you were to ask Mainers how to fix health care in America, you can be sure they would not suggest that our elected leaders permit a system that could price people out of affordable, adequate health coverage.

Yet after working behind closed doors, Senate leadership finally released their health care bill – the Better Care Reconciliation Act – at the end of last week. The House of Representatives version, the American Health Care Act, was passed in May. Now we know why the Senate bill was crafted in secret. This new legislation could make adequate health insurance coverage unaffordable for millions of older Americans and would hit Maine especially hard.

First of all, the Senate bill would allow states to waive important consumer protections, including essential health benefits. This would allow insurance companies to no longer offer or drastically increase the cost of the coverage people need and depend on, particularly those with pre-existing conditions. There are currently 123,000 Mainers living with pre-existing conditions, including chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The Senate bill would be devastating to these individuals as well as to their families.

As with the House bill, the Senate bill would have a disproportionate impact on older adults by allowing insurance companies to impose an age tax. This means that people between the ages of 50 and 64 who are buying health insurance on their own would be penalized by being charged five times or more what someone under 50 pays. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, older Mainers who earn $45,000 a year, for example, would lose premium tax subsidies under the bill and could have to pay as much as $14,000 more annually.

Having to pay thousands more for health insurance could mean Mainers will have to make difficult choices between food, medicine, housing and other basic necessities. Forcing our most at-risk residents to make such choices becomes even more egregious when one considers that both the House and Senate bills call for tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks for drug and insurance companies.

The latest report from the Congressional Budget Office says that this legislation will cut off 22 million Americans from health care over the next 10 years. This would substantially affect older adults as well as cancer patients, because 87 percent of all cancers in the United States are diagnosed in people 50 years of age or older.

Finally, like the House bill, the Senate bill makes cuts to Medicaid in the billions of dollars and would allow states to create a capped financing structure that would affect older Mainers through a “per capita cap.” This spending limit would give Maine a fixed dollar amount per enrolled Medicaid beneficiary.

The projected Medicaid caps in Maine would cause a shortfall of between $13 billion and $26 billion over a 20-year period, from 2017 to 2036. Medicaid (known here as MaineCare) is a lifeline for 268,000 Mainers of all ages, including individuals living with disabilities and low- and middle-income seniors who depend on it for long-term care at home or in nursing homes. Cutting Medicaid will strip away coverage from millions of Americans and leave older adults at risk of not getting the care they need.

Considering that America’s aging population is more likely than younger Americans to receive a cancer diagnosis (and that adequate, affordable health insurance coverage is a key determinant in surviving cancer), it is critical for Maine’s older residents that the Senate vote to oppose the Better Care Reconciliation Act or any bill that includes these harmful policies. This deeply flawed bill does not take into account the unique health care needs of an aging population.

AARP Maine and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network recognize the need to improve the health care system, but the Better Care Reconciliation Act is a wrong approach. Behind closed doors, Senate leadership crafted a bill that would mean higher costs and less coverage for Americans, especially for people 50 and older. As leading health advocacy groups, we strongly believe that any advancement in health reform policy must provide older Mainers, cancer patients and cancer survivors access to health insurance that is affordable and at least as good as the coverage currently available.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act would have long-term negative impacts for millions of people, and we urge Sen. Susan Collins to continue to oppose the bill. Together, we stand ready to work with our elected leaders to develop policies that encourage a strong health insurance market that provides affordable, comprehensive coverage options in Maine and across the country.