For six years we’ve heard complaints about the Affordable Care Act, a major health reform measure that Democrats forced into law without a single Republican vote.

Now Republicans appear ready to do exactly the same thing in reverse, proposing to dismantle the program on a party-line vote – jeopardizing coverage for millions of Americans and potentially disrupting one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Oh, and they want to get it done this month.

It raises the question, what’s the rush?

The most hated parts of the health reform law known as Obamacare – the mandates that require individuals to buy insurance and spell out the kinds of services insurance policies are required to cover – will be around for at least another year because those policies have already been sold. But Congress is preparing to start voting this week to repeal the ACA with nothing in place to help the 20 million Americans – including 75,000 Mainers – whose lives could depend on it.

We are sympathetic with those who say that the Affordable Care Act is not good enough. But before throwing a suboptimal but basically functioning system into chaos, we’d like to see the critics unveil their plan for something better.


We urge Maine’s members of Congress, especially Republicans Sen. Susan Collins and 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, to use their influence as members of the majority party to slow down this process, avoid the mistakes made in the past and work to forge a health reform package that will improve lives, not just win political points.

According to multiple news reports, Republican leaders in the House and Senate want to push a bill through the budget reconciliation process, which would not be subject to a filibuster and could pass with only Republican votes in the Senate. The bill would likely resemble the ACA repeal plan that was passed by the Congress last year (and vetoed by President Obama), which would have cut taxes on high-wage earners and stripped funding for programs that include expanded Medicaid eligibility and premium subsidies for middle-class workers.

According to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the repeal bill will likely also include a plan to defund Planned Parenthood, a leading abortion provider, which operates clinics that receive Medicaid funds for non-abortion health services. What does Planned Parenthood have to do with escalating health care costs? Absolutely nothing.

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million a year in government reimbursements, mostly from the Medicaid program, for services like birth control, cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. That’s about three-one-thousandths of the $3.2 trillion we spend on health care every year.

Defunding Planned Parenthood would have no impact on the high cost of health care in America, but it is a big part of an anti-abortion agenda. The only reason for putting a defunding proposal in an ACA repeal bill is it does not have the support in the Senate it would need to pass on its own merits.

That kind of legislative end-run would be reason enough to vote against the whole bill, which is why Collins voted against it last year. But the fact that it is even up for discussion in this context should raise serious questions for lawmakers about the speed at which this process is moving.

Before voting to start dismantling the ACA, they should ask a couple of questions: What motives besides making health care affordable and accessible are driving the current repeal efforts? And what other ideas that have nothing to do with the price of health care in America are being crammed into a bill where they don’t belong?

Fortunately, there is no need to push this through hastily. Health plans under the ACA are set for 2017, and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate are not going anywhere. President-elect Donald Trump is still two weeks away from taking office, and he will soon have an appointee in charge of the massive U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which gives the administration enormous authority to set health care policy in the immediate term while Congress works on a long-term solution.

Collins and Poliquin should not get swept up in the momentum to “do something.” With the life-or-death stakes of health care access, Congress should make sure it takes enough time to do the right thing.

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