- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin joined the GOP majority in taking a step toward dismantling Democratic former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul on Thursday, saying the bill will ensure affordable access to everyone including state residents with pre-existing conditions.

Declaring that “Obamacare is failing,” Poliquin said the bill, approved 217-213, represents the best parts of several previous attempts at reform and Republican efforts to undo it.

He said he was heartened to see a Maine reform called the invisible high risk pool included in the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act.

“Our state has proven it can dramatically lower some health insurance premiums and stem the tide of rising costs with its reforms,” he said. “It has worked in Maine.”

But critics say a pool of money created to help people with pre-existing medical conditions isn’t enough and millions of people could lose their health care. They say the bill also eliminates funding for a year from Planned Parenthood, preventing Medicaid recipients from getting care at clinics.

Rep. Poliquin just voted to take health care away from millions of Americans and raise premiums on older Mainers,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said. “Poliquin ignored countless pleas from his constituents to vote against this ill-conceived disaster of a bill.”

Democrats vowed to hold Poliquin accountable at the ballot place in 2018.

Poliquin played his cards close to the vest, keeping people guessing on his views before announcing his support for the GOP proposal before Thursday’s vote.

“There are powerful special interest groups in Augusta and Washington trying to scare us into doing nothing. They say if we change the imploding Obamacare law, millions of Americans will lose their health insurance,” Poliquin said, rejecting the claim.

The debate next moves to the Senate, where Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said a Congressional Budget Office assessment needs to be completed to answer questions about the House bill.

“This is an extremely important debate with significant implications for millions of Americans,” Collins said. “We need to spend the time necessary to get this right.”

Critics have faulted the House for moving ahead with a vote instead of waiting for the CBO analysis.

The House bill would eliminate tax penalties in Obama’s law, which has clamped down on people who don’t buy coverage, and would erase tax increases on higher-earning people and the health industry. It would cut the Medicaid program for low-income people and let states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

It also would transform subsidies for millions of people buying insurance into tax credits that rise as consumers grow older.

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