Vulnerable Republicans throw ‘Hail Mary’ on pre-existing conditions

Dozens of vulnerable House Republicans have recently signed on to bills or resolutions in support of pre-existing conditions protections, part of an eleventh-hour attempt to demonstrate their affinity for one of ObamaCare’s most popular provisions.

Thirty-two of the 49 GOP incumbents in races deemed competitive by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report have backed congressional measures on pre-existing conditions in the past six weeks, according to an analysis by The Hill.

The moves, coming in the final weeks of the midterm campaign cycle, mark a course reversal for members of a party that for years railed against ObamaCare, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and called for its repeal.

Now, facing the threat of a “blue wave” and an onslaught of health-care attacks from Democratic candidates, vulnerable Republicans are running ads on pre-existing conditions and co-sponsoring measures that critics deride as meaningless.

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The congressional resolutions are “a quick Hail Mary for a list of endangered incumbents,” said Thomas Miller, a resident fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, and co-author of “Why ObamaCare is Wrong for America.”

“They’re intended to provide at least some legislative cover in the event that they can read the polls and know there’s been a stampede of support for the broad-brushed pre-existing conditions protections similar to those in the ACA,” he said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in August found that more than 72 percent of Americans think the protections — prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging them more for coverage — should remain law.

Democrats in June seized on the Trump administration’s announcement in court that it would not defend ObamaCare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The Department of Justice sided in large part with the 20 Republican state attorneys general who filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn ObamaCare.

Now Democrats, who are looking to flip both the House and Senate, are tying Republicans to that decision, while highlighting the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal-and-replace efforts, which they say would have diminished pre-existing conditions protections for people in the individual market.

Tyler Law, the national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said the “overwhelming majority” of campaign ads from the DCCC and Democrats have focused on health care, with pre-existing conditions as the central theme.

"Republicans are stuck on defense, forced to respond to devastatingly effective ads on their record on pre-existing conditions, and touting nonbinding resolutions as they panic because they see the political fallout,” Law said.

"Republicans clearly recognize how politically disastrous their policies are in regards to pre-existing conditions,” he added. “They are now just making up an alternative record on which all of a sudden they seem to care about pre-existing conditions.”

Reps. 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 (Iowa) and Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas New Members 2019 Congress is going to make marijuana moves McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE (Texas) — two Republicans running in competitive races this year — introduced separate resolutions in September supporting pre-existing conditions protections. Later that month, Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.), who is locked in a toss-up race, introduced a similar bill.

Another measure — the Pre-existing Conditions Protection Act of 2017 — was introduced by Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenGOP lawmaker pushes back on Trump drug pricing proposal Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump insists GOP will 'totally' protect people with pre-existing conditions | Landmark opioid bill signed into law | Report finds agencies blindsided by 'zero tolerance' policy MORE (R-Ore.) in February of last year, but has attracted 16 Republican co-sponsors in the past month and a half — all but four of whom are running in competitive races. Twenty Republicans in competitive races co-sponsored the legislation last year.

Of the 23 Republican incumbents who are considered to be most in danger of losing their seat, according to Cook Political Report, 18 co-sponsored at least one of the resolutions or bills since September.

The measures, however, are more of a political statement. They aren’t expected to pass or even get a markup at the committee level.

“It’s a political gesture,” Miller said. “You don’t introduce bills in September of 2018 with the intent of marking it up.”

Democrats say it’s part of a transparent attempt by the GOP to deflect from their failed efforts to repeal ObamaCare.

“They’re trying to claim they support protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It’s really disingenuous,” said Maura Calsyn, managing director of health policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “They’re hoping the public is going to ignore their past votes and their past statements that they don’t support the ACA.”

While some Republicans have pointed to their vote in favor of the GOP-backed American Health Care Act as proof they support protections for pre-existing conditions, Democrats argue that the legislation didn’t match the protections guaranteed by the ACA.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded last year that under the GOP bill, people with pre-existing conditions “would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

Vulnerable Republicans have also been running ads about pre-existing conditions, sometimes with a focus on their family members.

Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherDemocratic gains erasing House GOP in California California New Members 2019 McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE (R-Calif.), who is a toss-up race against Democrat Harley Rouda, recently released an ad focusing on his daughter’s pre-existing condition — leukemia.

“So for her and all our families, we must protect America’s health-care system,” Rohrabacher says in the ad. “That’s why I’m taking on both parties, and fighting for those with pre-existing conditions.”

Rohrabacher, who voted multiple times to repeal the ACA, signed on to legislation Tuesday supporting pre-existing conditions protections. 

“The Republicans who are pushing now to clean things up three weeks up before the election aren’t able to do it,” said Amanda Harrington, director of communications for Protect Our Care, a pro-ObamaCare advocacy group that is involved in the midterms. “The deficit they have created themselves on the issue of health care is far too steep for them to climb.”