Dems to force health care vote weeks before Nov. midterms

Senate Democrats on Wednesday plan to force a vote on a health-care measure in an effort to put Republicans on the record against pre-existing condition protections ahead of the midterm elections.

Democrats say the vote will highlight that 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 and congressional Republicans support the expansion of non-ObamaCare plans which can deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, an issue that Democrats have made the centerpiece of their electoral strategy.

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The measure appears headed for defeat after Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill When is a deal not a deal? When there’s a wildlife refuge to be exploited House funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program MORE (R-Alaska), a key swing vote, said she would oppose the Democratic measure, with her office noting that while short-term plans are “not ideal” she wants Alaskans to have options for cheaper coverage. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare MORE (R-Maine) said she is undecided, but Democrats would need another Republican vote beyond Collins.

Democrats maintain that even a failed vote will help them bring the issue of pre-existing conditions to the fore ahead of next month’s elections. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDem senator accuses Wisconsin Republicans of 'power grab' Schumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Number of LGBT lawmakers in Congress hits double digits MORE (D-Wis.), who is up for reelection this year, and has the support of all 49 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, meaning supporters need two GOP votes to pass it.

“On Wednesday, Senate Republicans get an opportunity to demonstrate independence from Trump and vote against junk insurance plans,” Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips Dems as shutdown looms | Congress deadlocked | Flynn associates charged will illegal lobbying The Year Ahead: Push for privacy bill gains new momentum Giuliani attack on Twitter prompts backlash MORE (D-Hawaii) wrote on Twitter. “Tammy Baldwin’s bill will put them all on the record.”

Democrats have been pounding Republicans in races across the country with ads highlighting GOP ObamaCare repeal votes and the harm they would do to people with pre-existing conditions. Many vulnerable Republicans have sought to blunt the attacks by pledging support in recent ads for ObamaCare’s pre-existing condition protections.

Going on the record, Democrats say, in support of health insurance plans that are able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions will undercut those GOP claims.

“Republicans are suddenly claiming to support pre-existing condition protections,” Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, tweeted on Tuesday. “This vote will expose their fraud.”

A particular spotlight will be on 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 (Nev.), the most vulnerable GOP Senate incumbent, who is expected to vote with Republicans to keep the non-ObamaCare plans in place.

The campaign of 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.), said it plans to highlight his vote as part of its attacks on him over pre-existing conditions.

“We’ll be hammering him on that vote,” said Stewart Boss, a spokesman for Rosen’s campaign. “I think that fits into a larger pattern of him saying he supports pre-existing condition protections while lying about it and doing the opposite in Washington.”

At issue are rules finalized in August by the Trump administration that expand non-ObamaCare health insurance plans known as short-term plans. Democrats deride these plans as “junk” insurance because they do not need to follow ObamaCare rules that require covering people with pre-existing conditions and coverage of a range of health services.

Republicans counter that these plans provide a cheaper option alongside more comprehensive ObamaCare plans.

“Republicans know a better solution is to give Americans more options, and let them choose the coverage that works best for them,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda White House jumps into fight over energy subsidies MORE (R-Wyo.) wrote in a Fox News op-ed last month praising the rules.

The Trump administration put forward new regulations to allow these plans to be sold for up to a year, rather than the previous limit of three months, which critics say means they are no longer actually “short term.”

The Democratic resolution would overturn these new rules.

Republicans argue the availability of short-term plans as an option does not prevent people from still choosing a full ObamaCare plan with pre-existing condition protections if they want that option.

“From the Republican perspective, their argument would be look, short-term health plans, this is just a choice,” said Chris Condeluci a former Senate GOP health-care staffer who is now an insurance benefits lawyer. “We are injecting choice into the market; we recognize these plans aren’t for everybody.”

He added that the vote is mainly “a messaging exercise where it appears that Senate Democrats want to force a conversation on pre-existing conditions as they go home to campaign.”

Health-care groups oppose the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term plans both because they say they offer inadequate coverage and they threaten to spike premiums for ObamaCare plans by siphoning off healthy people into the short-term plans.

“The rule threatens to split and weaken the individual insurance market, which has provided millions of previously uninsured people with access to quality coverage since the health care law went into effect,” a range of patient groups, including the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association, said in a joint statement this week.

Leslie Dach, chairman of the pro-ObamaCare group Protect Our Care, said the vote is “a real test” for Republicans.

“You can’t be against this bill and then go out and claim you care about people with pre-existing conditions,” he said.