After months of staging protests to pressure Sen. Susan Collins to oppose repeal of the Affordable Care Act, liberal activists were in a celebratory mood Wednesday at a rally in downtown Portland.

Two days after Collins, a key Republican swing vote in the Senate, announced her opposition to a bill that would result in 22 million fewer Americans with health insurance, the throng in Lobsterman’s Park voiced its approval.

“Thank you Senator Collins!” and “Thank you! No!” were the prevailing chants from the small crowd, including activists representing people with disabilities, many of whom rely on Medicaid for their care. The “No!” chant was to reinforce that Collins should stand firm and vote against the Senate bill, if it comes to a vote.

Medicaid would suffer deep cuts under the Senate health care bill, and one of the groups most at risk for losing funding would be the disabled. Collins has pointed to the cutbacks to Medicaid and the disproportionate harmful impact the bill would have on older, rural Americans as major factors in her opposition.

Ash Brittenham, 19, of Montpelier, Vt., attends Wednesday’s rally in Portland with his brother Kai Lane, 9. Staff photo by Derek Davis

At the rally was Kings Floyd, 23, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a red scooter to move around. She spent some of her childhood in Cape Elizabeth, graduated from Waynflete and now lives in Washington, D.C., working for the National Council on Independent Living.

Floyd was one of about 40 people arrested for obstructing a public area in a “die-in” last week at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. Some of her fellow protesters exited their wheelchairs and were carried out of McConnell’s office, a scene Floyd described as “mayhem.” She was detained by Capitol Police for about 10 hours and fined $50.

“At first we were welcomed by McConnell’s staff, when there was one or two of us. But then we just kept coming in. They were overwhelmed,” Floyd said.

She said Medicaid funding is crucial for people with disabilities to be able to live independently.

“Without Medicaid, you are effectively cutting off people’s independence, their ability to have jobs and access to good health care,” Floyd said.

The Senate bill is now stalled after Collins and other Republican senators, like Dean Heller of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky also said they were against the bill. More Republican senators, such as moderates Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio, came out against the bill after Collins tweeted her opposition Monday night. U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, also opposes the Senate bill.

Kingsley Floyd, a Waynflete School graduate who works for the National Council on Independent Living, speaks to the crowd at Wednesday’s rally in downtown Portland. “Without Medicaid,” she said, “you are effectively cutting off people‚Äôs independence, their ability to have jobs and access to good health care.” Staff photo by Derek Davis

Collins has made it clear in national media interviews that she thinks the bill is extremely flawed and a few tweaks to it would not gain her support. Since Obamacare went into effect in 2013, the uninsured rate has declined from about 17 percent to 10.9 percent in 2016. Maine’s uninsured rate in 2016 was 9.1 percent, according to Gallup.

About 80,000 Mainers have insurance on the ACA’s individual marketplace. The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, has estimated that 60,000 fewer Mainers would have health insurance by 2022 if the Senate bill were enacted.

“We are here to thank Senator Collins for her ‘no’ vote,” said Kim Moody, executive director of Disability Rights Maine.

However, advocates also made it clear they would continue to watch Collins closely.

Marie Follayttar-Smith, co-founder of liberal advocacy group Mainers for Accountable Leadership, said organizers will keep letting Collins know that supporting repeal of the ACA would be a “disaster.”

“She showed courage for standing up to her party and standing for the people of Maine,” Follayttar-Smith said. “We’re also letting her know we have her back for making that courageous decision.”

Collins, a moderate Republican in a closely-divided Senate with a 52-48 Republican majority, wields a key vote. Not only is she facing pressure from groups typically aligned with Democrats, but Maine was also one of a dozen states targeted by America First Policies, a conservative advocacy group that backs President Trump and the Senate bill.

“America First is appealing to voters in these states to encourage these senators to send a clear message to their elected officials: ‘vote yes to repeal and replace Obamacare now,'” the group said in a news release.

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

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