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 TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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 MurkowskiTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Kaine to force Senate to hold rare Saturday session amid shutdown 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 CollinsTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal 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 Baldwin116th Congress breaks records for women, minority lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema swears in to Congress using copy of Constitution instead of religious book Dems say Trump is defying court order by pushing abstinence programs 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 SchatzDemocrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal Trump expected to pitch immigration deal to end funding stalemate Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown 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 HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems 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 RosenInflux of women in Congress can improve women’s retirement security Overnight Health Care: DOJ seeks extension in ObamaCare lawsuit due to shutdown | Poll finds voters oppose court ruling against health law Press: White House not only for white males 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 Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing 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.