WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act is destined to fail, a trio of Republican governors including Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania told business leaders in Washington Monday.

Gov. Paul LePage of Maine said he’s working to help the failure along by discouraging companies in his state from participating in the mandate to provide health insurance to employees.

“I tell Maine businesses to pay the penalty” instead of providing coverage, the governor said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s America’s Small Business Summit. “It would be cheaper by just writing a check for the penalty and then let Obamacare fall on its own weight. In one year it would falter.”

Corbett, who also criticized the health care program, said he hasn’t tried to dissuade Pennsylvania business owners from participating, but many are opting out on their own.

“I’m not encouraging anybody one way or the other, but I think that’s what’s happening,” he said in an interview after the panel discussion with LePage and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

The law requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide health coverage unless they opt out and pay a penalty of $2,000 for each employee in excess of 30. The penalties are used to provide subsidized coverage for uninsured individuals who will be required by law to carry health insurance starting next year.

“Business are telling me they aren’t growing. They don’t want to go over that critical number … so it’s discouraging employment,” Corbett said.

The law’s most cynical critics have said its liberal architects intended businesses to opt out because that would force people into insurance exchanges, essentially using a back door to create the kind of single-payer health care system that Democrats have been unable to get through Congress.

“I see the whole thing collapsing and, potentially, in the long run that may have been the plan,” Corbett told summit attendees Monday. “I’m a prosecutor. I believe in conspiracies.”

Democrats, meanwhile, balk at the suggestion.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the Affordable Care Act will decrease insurance costs and make it easier for employers to provide coverage to their workers.

A study by the Center for American Progress showed that the number of people with employer-sponsored health insurance increased from 4.3 million to 4.5 million in Massachusetts when that state adopted health reforms similar to those in the Affordable Care Act.

Marc Eisenstein, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, did not attend the summit but said he wasn’t surprised to hear about Corbett’s criticisms of the Affordable Care Act.

“At every opportunity Tom Corbett has made it more difficult for Pennsylvanians to get access to affordable health care and it should come as no surprise that he is rooting for Obamacare to fail,” Eisenstein said, noting that the governor still hasn’t said whether he would accept federal aid to provide coverage in exchange for raising income limits for Medicaid recipients.

The federal government would pay the full cost of new enrollees for the first three years. The federal share would gradually decrease to 90 percent in 2020.

His administration has said that the expansion would cost the state more than $4 billion over the next eight years, but a report last week by the state Independent Fiscal Office had vastly different figures, saying state Medicaid expenditures would decrease by $190 million while federal funding would increase by $3.2 billion.

Distributed by MCT Information Services