GOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions

GOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions
© Greg Nash

Republicans in tough reelection races are scrambling to show that they support protections for people with pre-existing conditions in the face of a wave of Democratic attacks on the issue.

But the argument they are making has been complicated by their party’s repeated efforts to repeal ObamaCare, as well as a lawsuit supported by the Trump administration that seeks to overturn protections under the law for people with pre-existing health conditions.

Rep. David YoungDavid Edmund YoungIowa New Members 2019 McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote Dem Axne beats GOP Rep. Young in Iowa MORE (R-Iowa), whose race the Cook Political Report rates as a toss-up, last week introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by several other vulnerable GOP lawmakers, expressing the opinion of the House that pre-existing condition protections should be maintained.

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In the Senate, Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Leading contenders emerge to replace Zinke as Interior secretary How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit MORE (R-Nev.), the most endangered GOP Senate incumbent, added his name last month to a bill aiming to preserve pre-existing condition protections.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE himself sought to make the same argument at a rally for Heller in Nevada on Thursday night, saying, “Donald Trump and Republicans will protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”

Republicans are fighting back as Democrats have gone on offense over the issue.

An ad from Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — New momentum for privacy legislation | YouTube purges spam videos | Apple plans B Austin campus | Iranian hackers targeted Treasury officials | FEC to let lawmakers use campaign funds for cyber Manchin puts hold on FCC nomination over wireless internet fund delay MORE (D-W.Va.) this month shows him using a shotgun to blow holes through a copy of the lawsuit seeking to overturn ObamaCare’s pre-existing condition protections that is supported by the Trump administration.

“If you’ve got Joe Manchin in one of the most Republican states in the country ... shooting a lawsuit trying to get rid of protections for pre-existing conditions, I think that’s pretty telling about how much potential Democrats think this has as an issue,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll this month found that a large majority of voters, 71 percent, including 66 percent of Republicans, said insurers should be barred from charging people with pre-existing conditions more, a key provision of ObamaCare.

Young, the GOP lawmaker from Iowa, said in an interview that he introduced his resolution because he “wanted to make sure, especially with the court case going on, that we make that commitment to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions are protected.”

Vulnerable Republican lawmakers face headwinds, however, given the Trump administration’s support for the anti-ObamaCare lawsuit brought by 20 GOP-led states. Most of the GOP lawmakers have avoided directly contradicting Trump on the issue.

Asked whether he supports the lawsuit, Young did not give a position, saying, “I’m just going to let that play out,” and “I haven’t paid too much attention to it.”

He added that if the lawsuit succeeds, lawmakers should act “right away to protect folks.”

Republicans have launched ads pushing back on Democratic attacks.

An ad from Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates MORE (D-N.D.), facing one of the toughest Senate races in the country, against GOP Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerDem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches North Dakota New Members 2019 Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues MORE, features a woman with heart disease saying into the camera: “Mr. Cramer, I don't know why you voted to let insurance companies go back to denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, but I know Heidi would never do that."

Cramer hit back with his own ad, which states: “Kevin Cramer voted for guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Heller is running similar ads pushing back on attacks from his opponent, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenLeading contenders emerge to replace Zinke as Interior secretary Schumer walking tightrope with committee assignments 10 things we learned from the midterms MORE (D-Nev.). In one, he states: “I’m fighting to protect pre-existing conditions.”

Democrats dismiss GOP statements like these by noting that the House’s repeal and replace bill last year, which Cramer, Young, and all but 20 House Republicans voted for, allowed states to get waivers that would enable insurers to spike premiums for people with pre-existing conditions.

Asked about his vote for that bill, Cramer’s campaign noted that people could only be charged more if they had a lapse in coverage for 63 days or more, which the campaign said was an incentive for people to maintain coverage.

Heller, Cramer, and a host of other Republicans in tough races also voted during the Obama administration to repeal all of ObamaCare, including its protections for pre-existing conditions.

Asked about his 2011 vote for full ObamaCare repeal, Heller’s campaign said that no one at the time would have lost coverage because ObamaCare didn’t take effect until 2014, and that Heller supported including those protections in any replacement.

Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that the House repeal and replace bill last year “opened the door to weakening protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

A spokeswoman for Cindy Axne, the Democrat running against Young in Iowa, dismissed Young’s resolution on pre-existing conditions, saying “it is insulting that David Young thinks Iowans will forget his voting record because he ‘expressed concern’ for people with pre-existing conditions 54 days before the election.”

Axne launched a new ad against Young this week, saying “he’d allow insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions,” citing his 2015 vote for full ObamaCare repeal.

Asked if he still wanted to repeal ObamaCare, Young told The Hill “when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, I’ve seen it work for people, I’ve seen it not work for others as well.”

“It's time to come together and do a repair job,” he added.