SKOWHEGAN — U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe was in Skowhegan on Thursday telling residents that health care reform will harm small businesses at the same time President Obama was in Portland telling supporters the opposite.

“There are a number of things that could have been done now and not deferred four years from now and not deferred to a very big, massive government approach,” the Maine Republican said of the reforms, most of which will not take effect until 2014. “It’s going to be very expensive; I think ultimately (it) will add to the deficit. It could impose serious penalties on businesses at times when we cannot afford to add to the cost of doing business.”

Snowe made the comments during a tour of the Skowhegan Career Center, where she saw how social service agencies deal with employment assistance for displaced workers.

After the visit, Snowe said she supports changes to the health reform package, but has not committed to joining a wholesale repeal effort introduced this week by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota. Snowe, along with her Republican colleagues in Congress including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, did not vote for the reform package in its final version.

“I’m going to certainly support trying to change things that I think need to be changed in that legislation,” she said. “Some provisions do need to be repealed, so we have to look at it from that standpoint, and I will be working on reforming it. There are some provisions I would like to see go away because they will be onerous.”

Snowe said there are many unknowns in the health care reform package. She said Americans will have to wait and see what effect the reforms have on the economy and on small businesses during the next four years.

She said the reform’s effects should have been studied before it was hurried to the president’s desk.

“There was no reason to rush this legislation through and not get a state-by-state analysis, not get answers to questions I submitted in early December on a bill that’s more than $940 billion and most of which won’t take effect for four years,” Snowe said.

She said she could not support a reform bill that took a different direction from talks she had with the president in the weeks and months leading up to the bill’s passage.

“Unfortunately, it took a dramatically different direction in terms of imposing $200 billion in taxes on the Medicare payroll taxes, on unearned income that will affect small businesses as well,” she said. “It expands government programs and creates a whole new entitlement at great cost and at a time in which our economy can’t afford it and certainly our federal budget can’t afford it.”

Snowe said forcing individuals to buy insurance will not be popular. She also said she supports allowing coverage plans to cross state lines — now, only two insurance companies compete in Maine, which drives costs higher.


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