SEN. ANGUS KING, I-Maine, discusses the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with Midcoast residents and health care related groups at People Plus in Brunswick.

SEN. ANGUS KING, I-Maine, discusses the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with Midcoast residents and health care related groups at People Plus in Brunswick.

BRUNSWICK

Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King suspects that a Republican bill meant to replace Obamacare is running out of gas.

“My sense is that the momentum of this replacement bill has stopped and that it’s really losing support,” said King, speaking Thursday at an event at People Plus in Brunswick.

Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office released its cost and coverage estimates for the Republican ACA replacement plan. Overall, the plan would increase the uninsured population by 24 million by 2026. At the same time, it would cut $337 billion from the deficit.

“The CBO report that announced how many people were going to lose their insurance, I think, was a shock,” said King. “I don’t think that this bill is even going to get through the House. I’d be surprised.”

That may be good news for people like Lynn Ellis.

When Ellis lost her job last fall, she was daunted by the task of paying for her regular medical supplies and care without insurance.

“I have asthma COPD, so my inhaler costs $345 a month out of pocket if I don’t have insurance,” said Ellis. “So without that inhaler, which is a lifesaving medication for me, I would be in trouble.”

An activist and former social worker, Ellis said it’s difficult to find a new job at her age, and without income she was unable to pay for health insurance or out of pocket medical expenses. At 62, Ellis doesn’t yet qualify for Medicare and claimed that despite a recent disability she was denied MaineCare.

However, Ellis said she was able to get a plan under the Affordable Care Act with a monthly premium of only $35.68.

Ellis was one of several individuals from the Midcoast area to meet with King at Peoples Plus to discuss the Republican plan to replace the ACA and how it would affect Maine. King said that according to his analysis, the GOP replacement plan would hurt Mainers — especially those over 50.

“We are very concerned about the fact that this bill disproportionately impacts older people. Whether you’re age 50-64, you already struggle to pay for health care costs in the insurance market,” said Lori Parham, executive director for AARP Maine.

Parham referred to a provision in the Republican plan that expands the age ratio cap for premiums from 3:1 to 5:1, which she monikered “the age tax.”

“Under the Affordable Care Act, if you go without insurance your penalty is based on your income; under the replacement it’s based on your premiums,” said Steve Butterfield, policy director for Consumers for Affordable Healthcare.

So at the same time that seniors are hit with “the age tax” under the replacement plan, said Butterfield, people who have a lapse in coverage because of something like a job loss could also be hit with a penalty of a 30 percent increase to their premiums.

“Pick a page and there’s something that we don’t like in this,” he said.

Lois Skillings, president and CEO of Mid Coast Health Services in Brunswick, expressed concerns about the burden that the increase of uninsured individuals would put on hospitals that offer free care for those at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“What’s happening is that there’s already a significant increase in what’s referred to as uncompensated care,” said Skillings. “The fact that Maine did not expand MaineCare has been a burden on Maine’s hospitals because the amount of free care has gone up. But as importantly, because of the onset of high deductible plans, there is a higher burden of bad debt or uncompensated care — people can’t pay their bills with these high, high deductible plans.”

A significant increase in uncompensated care could be financially troublesome to hospitals she added, especially those in rural areas which often operate on thin margins.

While the focus of the discussion was flaws in the GOP replacement plan, several participants noted that there were parts of the Affordable Care Act that need to be fixed.

“This was an experiment, and some parts of the experiment didn’t work and some parts did work. So let’s fix the things that didn’t work and come together and solve the problems that we have in a thoughtful way,” said Skillings.

King noted that he had been working to make changes to fix problems with the legislation since he was first elected to the Senate in 2012, but he found little interest in D.C.

“The problem was that many of the people didn’t want to fix it,” said King. “They only wanted to repeal it.”

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