Gov. Paul LePage shot back at former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell on Friday for Mitchell’s defense of recent votes on the Affordable Care Act by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.

In a written statement, LePage accused all three of being “sadly out of touch” and “three peas in a pod, preaching to struggling Maine citizens from the polished corridors of Washington, D.C., while they enjoy luxurious health care benefits lavished on them as members of the world’s most exclusive club.”

LePage’s comments come a day after Mitchell came to the senators’ defense — and a day after the Bangor Daily News asked LePage’s office for reaction, which his staff failed to provide. At issue is King’s and Collins’ votes last month against moving a Senate Republican health care bill forward and then against a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

Friday’s statement from the governor continued what has been a week of near-constant criticism by LePage. He accused Mitchell of supporting an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, though Mitchell made no mention of Medicaid on Thursday.

Mitchell issued a brief statement in response to LePage.

“The bills [Collins and King] voted against would, if enacted, have severe negative effects on many Maine people: the elderly, those living in rural areas and working families with low incomes,” said Mitchell. “For their votes, the senators deserve support, not criticism. I have no further comment beyond that.”

The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand their Medicaid programs with partial federal subsidies but LePage and legislative Republicans have blocked expansion attempts six times during LePage’s tenure on the grounds that it would be financially ruinous to the state’s budget over the long term.

As he has in the past, LePage claimed that the senators receive “luxurious health care benefits,” though members of Congress and their staffs purchase their employer-based health care policies from the Affordable Care Act exchanges and pay 28 percent of their premiums out-of-pocket.

Collins and King stood by their votes.

“We’ve addressed this issue at length,” said King in a written response to questions from the Bangor Daily News. “It’s time to make constructive improvements to the American health care system that the overwhelming number of people in Maine I’ve heard from want.”

Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said Collins recognizes the problems with the ACA and how they affect Mainers but an outright repeal is not the answer.

“Millions of individuals and families rely on the ACA for health care coverage,” wrote Clark. “We cannot simply wipe out the ACA with a stroke of a pen without having a workable, better alternative.”

The Senate Health Committee, on which Collins serves, is scheduled to begin hearings in September in an effort to fix flaws in the ACA.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.