Maine Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud followed party lines Sunday night, voting with fellow Democrats in support of a historic national health care reform package.

Pingree, who represents the 1st District, has consistently supported health care reform. She spoke passionately on the floor of the House Sunday night – it was televised on C-Span – urging her colleagues to approve an overhaul of the health care system.

Pingree cited three examples of Mainers who could not afford health care coverage.

“Those people wrote to me from Maine but the stories are told every day in every state,” Pingree said. “Americans are denied insurance, have their coverage canceled or find themselves bankrupt just because they got sick. Today we will change that with our vote.”

Michaud, the 2nd District congressman who remained undecided heading into Sunday’s debate, kept people guessing until around 6:30 p.m., when he finally announced his intention to vote in support of the bill.

“While the bill is not perfect,” Michaud said, “it is an important first step toward fixing our broken and unsustainable health care system.”

Pingree said the legislation will improve health care for 225,000 Maine seniors by reducing their costs. She said the bill provides free annual checkups for seniors and no out-of-pocket expenses for screenings such as cancer and diabetes.

Pingree said the bill also bans practices such as discrimination based on pre-existing health conditions as well as canceling insurance coverage after a policyholder becomes ill.

Michaud said the legislation will help small businesses gain access to affordable health care coverage.

Starting in 2014, small business workers will have access to a health insurance exchange that provides them with the same purchasing power as a larger group.

Both Pingree and Michaud said the health care bill will reduce the national deficit by $143 billion over the next 10 years.

“Today we stood up to the big insurance companies like Anthem. And we voted for reform that is going to crack down on their unfair practices like canceling people’s insurance after they get sick,” Pingree said.

Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were not nearly as optimistic that the legislation will succeed.

Collins called the bill “divisive and partisan,” one that will raise taxes and premiums for many Americans, threaten seniors’ access to Medicare, and reduce choices for consumers.

Collins said the bill will cut Medicare funds, threatening the program’s stability and jeopardizing rural hospitals, home health agencies and nursing homes.

“This bill not only fails to address some of the fundamental problems with our health care system, including the skyrocketing cost of health care, but also still includes special sweetheart deals that benefit a few states like Louisiana and Connecticut, but do nothing for most states, including Maine. This is not good public policy,” Collins said.

Snowe, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said more could have been done to ensure that the health care reform package was affordable and effective.

She said the bill, for example, will increase penalties from $750 to $2,000 for employers with more than 50 workers who do not offer health insurance.

Snowe characterized Sunday’s vote as “regrettably the manifestation of legislative and political expediency trumping responsible policy.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.