Dems aim to turn ObamaCare hikes into election weapon


Democrats are gearing up to blame Republicans for ObamaCare premium increases after the likely failure of an effort to stabilize the law in this month’s government funding package.

The premium hikes for ObamaCare will likely be announced in October, just a month before a midterm election where Democrats are hoping to win back the House and Senate.

But Republicans are pushing back, saying it was Democrats who scuttled a bipartisan deal to lower premiums by objecting to abortion restrictions. 

The Senate could hold a vote on a bill aimed at lowering premiums as a symbolic way to put Democrats on record in opposition to the overall bill. 

Democrats, though, think they have the upper hand, a reversal from previous years where they were the party taking heat for ObamaCare’s struggles. They note that Republicans are now in charge of the government and say they will be blamed for premium increases.

“Skyrocketing premiums are the direct result of Washington Republicans sabotaging the health-care system, and they’re going to be held accountable in the midterms,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Health-care experts say several actions taken by the Republican Congress and the Trump administration are likely to push premiums higher, including the repeal of the mandate to have insurance and President Trump’s decision to expand access to cheaper, skimpier plans that could draw healthy people away from ObamaCare markets. 

Insurers are warning that the next premium increases in ObamaCare could average almost 30 percent.

Some Republicans say they think Democrats purposefully pulled away from a bipartisan deal this week that would lower premiums. 

“They realize if we pass the stability payments, premiums will go down, not up, and they want to make it an issue [in the election],” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 

Democrats reject that idea, saying they negotiated for months on a bill to lower premiums only to have Republicans derail the talks by insisting on the abortion language. 

Republicans argue they simply want the standard restrictions on federal funding going to abortions, known as the Hyde Amendment, to be applied to the new payments aimed at lowering ObamaCare premiums.

Democrats, however, said taking that step would be an expansion of the Hyde Amendment that would prevent federal funds from going to an insurer if it offered abortion coverage at all.

With the premium increases looming, Democrats are bullish that health care is becoming a liability for the GOP. They point to successes like Conor Lamb’s victory this month in a special election in Pennsylvania, where he made health care a top issue, and polls showing voters now assign responsibility for ObamaCare problems to Republicans.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in January found that 61 percent of the public says Republicans now bear responsibility for problems with the health law going forward, compared to 27 percent who say Democrats do.

Republicans are downplaying the advantage Democrats think they have going into the midterms. 

Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist, said Democratic efforts to point to Republican “sabotage” of the law through areas like repealing the mandate or cutting back on outreach efforts are “esoteric, kind of complex arguments to make.” 

“I think the whole issue’s muddled,” he said. “There’s not a clean argument on either side.” 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a Republican advocate of the bill to lower premiums, said that he at least wants to have a vote on his bill in the Senate, which would be a chance to put Democrats on record against it.

“My only goal is I want senators and congressmen to have a chance to vote on this,” Alexander said. “This is going to be announced on Oct. 1, one month before the election, I want them to be accountable for a vote on an opportunity that we all have to lower rates by 40 percent.” 

Marjorie Connolly, communications director for the pro-ObamaCare group Protect our Care, countered that a symbolic vote in the Senate would not make up for Republican repeal attempts and attacks on the health law. 

That argument “strains credibility a little too much for voters who have seen what Republicans have been doing for the past year and a half,” she said. 

“They broke it, now they’re refusing to fix it, and they’re going to own it in November,” she added.

Aside from the abortion dispute, Democrats had also soured on some elements of Alexander’s plan, particularly payments to insurers known as cost-sharing reductions, which they previously supported. Because of a quirk in the structure of the law, funding those payments actually would have reduced subsidies for many people that help them afford insurance, thereby actually raising many people’s costs.

Democrats wanted instead to raise subsidies and cancel out administrative actions from the Trump administration, but Republicans rejected those ideas.

With no congressional action likely forthcoming, Dave Anderson, a health researcher at Duke University, said that for people who make too much income to qualify for financial help under ObamaCare, “it’s not looking good for you” once premiums rise. People who receive subsidies, though, will be protected.

He added he is “less confident” than in previous years that every county in the country will have an insurer offering coverage.

House Republicans say Democrats are ultimately at fault for whatever happens in ObamaCare.

“Democrats destroyed our health care system when they rammed Obamacare down our throats and did nothing as premiums skyrocketed and choices dwindled,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Now they aspire to implement a $32 trillion government controlled single-payer health-care system that will only do further harm.”

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