Group hits Janet Mills, Pingree for false claims and playing on health care fears

Left: Governor Janet Mills does a television interview. Right: Rep. Chellie Pingree poses for a picture with House Speaker Sara Gideon.

AUGUSTA – Maine has a law that guarantees anyone with a pre-existing condition cannot be denied health insurance. That law has been in place for many years, and at the start of 2019, lawmakers passed a new bill strengthening those protections further with almost unanimous support. That didn’t stop Rep. Chellie Pingree and Governor Janet Mills this week from issuing public statements that are drawing fire as misleading and trying to create fear in Mainers.

Maine People Before Politics, a non-profit active in Augusta’s public policy debate, says Pingree and Mills are “playing upon the fears of Mainers” with the statements claiming hundreds of thousands of Mainers could be impacted. MPBP says that is just false, and state law guarantees nobody will lose coverage.

MPBP also called out the pair for a huge discrepancy in the number of Mainers they say would be impacted. Mills claimed the number is about 230,000 Mainers, while Pingree said the number was 544,000 Mainers.

“Maine has state laws that require health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. If Obamacare is declared unconstitutional by the courts, Maine people will not lose their insurance coverage,” says Maine People Before Politics.

In a statement when she signed LD 1, a bill that passed unanimously in the Senate and with only 3 dissenting votes in the House, Gov. Janet Mills said, “From this moment on, Maine people can rest assured that, regardless of whatever happens outside of Maine, they will not be denied coverage here in Maine.”

That was in March. Now, in December, Mills has flipped, suggesting Maine people with pre-existing conditions are vulnerable. In the statement made this week, Mills said, “If the ACA were fully struck down, it would endanger health care for hundreds of thousands of Maine people — putting nearly 230,000 Maine people with pre-existing conditions at risk of losing their health insurance.”

Maine’s law guaranteeing coverage for Mainers with pre-existing conditions has actually been in place since before the Affordable Care Act and was protected by Republican majorities under Governor Paul LePage in a sweeping health insurance reform bill that lowered insurance rates.

“Long before the ACA (Obamacare), Maine law had significant protections in place for people with pre-existing conditions (we also had guaranteed issue and community rating). If the ACA were repealed tomorrow, Maine people would still have their state law protections for pre-existing conditions,” wrote Governor Paul LePage to Rep. Chellie Pingree in a November 2018 letter.

Pointing to the discrepancy between Mills’ and Pingree’s numbers, MPBP suggested the “tale gets taller with every telling.”

It’s likely that because Pingree and Mills are both supporters of Obamacare they are anxious to turn the discussion away from criticisms of the ACA, such as the penalty Mainers faced if they could not afford insurance. In 2015, more than 34,000 Maine households paid a fine because they could not afford health insurance. Among those Maine households punished under Obamacare, more than 92% earned less than $75,000 per year.

Under President Donald Trump’s tax cut bill, that penalty was repealed.

Still, it appears the desire from Democrats to see the penalty return has not waned. Numerous candidates for President running as Democrats either support the return of the Obamacare mandate or desire a health care program that goes well beyond Obamacare. The top Democratic candidates for President took fire earlier this year when every one of them raised their hands when asked if their plan would provide illegal immigrants health care.

For his part, President Trump has been adamant that he will continue to make sure Americans with pre-existing conditions are covered, as have lawmakers of both parties. Trump has also worked to expand insurance options and lower the cost of health care through a series of actions and orders.

While the debates over Governor Mills self-contradicting claims and Pingree’s inflated numbers may continue, a couple things are certain. One – Mainers with pre-existing conditions are fully protected under state law and have been for years. Two – virtually every elected official in the state of Maine will be falling all over themselves to make sure it stays that way.

IRS DATA: Obamacare Penalty Hits Low & Middle Income Mainers Hardest

Janet Mills’ March Statement that no matter what happens with Obamacare, Mainers with pre-existing conditions are covered

Maine People Before Politics statement criticizing Mills and Pingree for misleading statements

All Democrat candidates for President support giving health care to illegal immigrants

Rep. Chellie Pingree tweet making disputed claim that 544k Mainers with pre-existing conditions are in limbo

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