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 Republican ousted in 2018 says he will run to reclaim House seat The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Anxiety grows in first tax season under Trump law 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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary 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 TrumpDemocrats claim victory as Trump gets battered in court Juan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise Trump feels squeeze in tax return fight 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) ManchinSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (D-N.D.), facing one of the toughest Senate races in the country, against GOP Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump pushing for GOP donor's company to get border wall contract: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran 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 RosenLawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding Dem lawmakers accuse DHS, HHS of giving them misleading information on family separations This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report 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.