Poliquin the avoider ducks controversial topics

Democracies run on some basic principles. One is that politicians tell citizens where they stand on proposed laws. But of Maine’s four federal legislators, Rep. Bruce Poliquin stands out for avoiding taking positions. Compared to the other three and Gov. Paul LePage, Poliquin is the least candid about controversies.

Poliquin’s surreptitious tendencies are seen with various Obamacare replacement bills that could literally mean Mainers going bankrupt from unaffordable medical bills or suffering sickness or death from untreated disease.

After different versions of the American Health Care Act (ACHA) were released, reporters published tallies showing legislators who supported it and opposed it. Last week, as details of the latest version were discussed, over 20 House Republicans said they would vote against it. Meanwhile, no list could include Poliquin because he didn’t say where he stood.

Considering how awful this plan is, it’s a real shame that Poliquin did not rapidly join the members of his party who rejected it. The bill is bad for anyone with a pre-existing condition, and so is very bad for older voters. That make it really terrible for Poliquin’s congressional district, the older of Maine’s two in the state with the oldest population in the country.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

What most defines this version of the AHCA is the MacArthur Amendment, which would lead to huge premium increases for people with pre-existing conditions, rendering coverage unaffordable. More than one in four Americans under 65 have a preexisting condition, with higher and higher percentages the closer one gets to age 65. Hypocritically, this version exempted members of Congress and congressional staff from this new rule.

While states could set up high-risk pools, the bill underfunds them with $100 billion over nine years. A 2014 study by the Commonwealth Fund estimated that $178 billion a year was needed to adequately fund them nationwide. And who would pick up the fiscal gap? The people who needed them and states’ taxpayers.

And like all forms of the bill, tens of millions of people would lose coverage, and Medicaid spending would be slashed as people with very high incomes received huge tax cuts.

According to Sister Carol Keehan, the CEO of the Catholic Health Association, “Changing the current rules to undermine essential benefits requirements and protections for people with preexisting conditions, as well as allowing insurers to set annual and lifetime caps on the care they cover, would seriously undermine health security and leave many individuals with substandard protection. Even the proposed state high-risk pools would be an inadequate and underfunded solution to a problem that need not exist in the first place,” she told Forbes. More succinctly, Keehan described the new version as “even more disastrous.”

A coalition of 10 groups that includes the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society concluded that the bill “would leave millions with inadequate, unaffordable care.” Speaking on behalf of over 100 million Americans, these groups oppose the AHCA. But as time has gone on, Poliquin has not said whether he will vote for it.

It’s not unusual for Poliquin to avoid telling voters where he stands. After all, during the 2016 campaign, he repeatedly refused to say in public if he supported Donald Trump for president.

Still, when one looks at this latest bill, Poliquin’s uncommunicativeness is especially odd because it doesn’t meet Poliquin’s criteria delineated in a statement issued the day in March that the original AHCA was pulled before its scheduled vote. While the congressman never definitely stated how he would have voted for this initial version of the American Health Care Act, Poliquin’s press release asserted that he wanted “to ensure those nearing retirement and in rural areas receive support.” Yet, older, rural voters would suffer even more in this new edition of the bill.

Perhaps Poliquin has been quiet because he is involved with the House Financial Services Committee’s work this week on a bill dropping the consumer protections and regulations on financial institutions instituted after big banks crashed the economy in 2008. That committee assignment helped Poliquin raise about $800,000 from finance and insurance interests for his re-election.

Whatever the reason, as constituents keep communicating with Poliquin, it’s time for the congressmen to tell them how he’d vote on this very consequential health policy bill.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.