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 TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage 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 MurkowskiMurkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   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 CollinsFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds 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 BaldwinFederal funding for Chinese buses risks our national security Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall The Trump downturn: Trouble ahead for the US economy 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 SchatzNBA draws bipartisan backlash over China response Federal aid is reaching storm-damaged communities too late Impeachment threatens to drown out everything 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 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 (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 RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states 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 BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia 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.