Last week, Sen. Susan Collins’ office took issue with an editorial we ran on page 4 about the Republican Senator’s votes on the confirmation of controversial Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. We wrote that Collins voted along party-lines, on a final vote of 12-11, “to support DeVos when it mattered in committee and opposed her when it didn’t in the final Senate vote.” In an email, Collins’ press secretary Christopher Knight called the characterization of the DeVos votes “completely wrong.”

Knight noted that Collins had publicly stated that “Presidents are entitled to considerable deference in the selection of Cabinet members” and “it is appropriate for each and every Senator to have the opportunity to vote for or against an individual nominee.” 

“This is the approach she’s taken no matter who is President,” wrote Knight. “For instance, she voted to allow the consideration of President Obama’s Secretaries of Labor and Defense even though she ultimately voted against them.”

In his email, Knight also cited passages from the editorial with the proposed corrections shown at the top right.

However, Collins may have voted for DeVos in committee in order to give her Senate colleagues a chance to vote on the nominee, but she also recently told Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz that her critics are “mistaken” to believe that her vote would have prevented DeVos from going to the full Senate for a vote. Nemitz cited earlier presidential picks including Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork, John Tower and John Bolton as examples of nominees who received either an unfavorable vote or a no recommendation by committees, but still made it to the Senate floor. 

It’s baffling that Sen. Collins would both make the claim that she only voted yes on DeVos in committee because she wanted to give her Senate colleagues a chance to vote, while simultaneously arguing that voting no wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. As Boothbay resident Bonnie Ginger pointed out in a letter last week, “What is the point of all the committee hearings if unqualified or specious candidates are automatically forwarded on?”

On the Collins ACA Replacement

In a second email to The Free Press regarding a different story in last week’s issue, about Collins’ proposed Obamacare replacement, Knight disputed our statement that it’s unclear how much more consumers will end up paying for health care under the Collins plan and also that the requirement that everyone buy insurance, which the Collins amendment would repeal, helps pay for the program. 

 


“First, under the Cassidy-Collins plan, consumers will likely pay less for health care than they are paying now,” wrote Knight. “Second, the individual mandate only requires everyone to purchase health insurance; the fines on those who don’t purchase insurance represent a small fraction of the revenue needed to pay for the ACA. Furthermore, under the Cassidy-Collins plan, states will continue to receive the same funding they anticipated receiving under the ACA.”

However, Knight offered no evidence that average consumers will pay less for health care under the Collins amendment and did not respond to a request for an independent analysis of the plan. And although Knight correctly noted that the fines for not buying insurance represent a small portion of ACA revenue, he did not respond to follow-up questions concerning the impact repealing the individual mandate would have on the cost of insurance for people with high health care needs as younger, healthier people opt out of buying insurance. 

While the Collins amendment provides states with the option of choosing a federally subsidized health care policy that closely resembles the ACA, the reality is that Gov. Paul LePage prefers to replace the federal law with a law that will certainly raise costs for Maine’s sick and aging population.

As for independent analyses of the Collins-Cassidy plan, there are a few.The health advocacy group Families USA  wrote that the plan would cause out-of-pocket costs to increase, weaken the Medicaid program and “cause millions to lose their health coverage.” Professor Kelly Whitener of Georgetown University Health Policy Institute said the amendment “would likely lead to fewer people having coverage because it offers states a fraction of the federal funding while allowing them to spread it across a larger group of people at higher income levels and those with employer-sponsored coverage.” And Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst  with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the amendment “would likely leave many millions who now rely on ACA health coverage, especially those with low incomes and pre-existing health conditions, uninsured or going without needed care.”