Democrats Fall Short in Bid to Undo Obamacare Waivers

WASHINGTON (CN) – Senate Democrats on Wednesday forced a vote on health care as the presidential election cycle heats up, but failed to pass a resolution to roll back a Trump administration rule making it easier for states to waive certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

The HealthCare.gov website is photographed in Washington on Oct. 31, 2018.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Last year, the Trump administration eased the process of approval for Section 1332 waivers, significantly broadening the types of insurance plans the waivers could apply to.

While originally meant to drive down the cost of individual market policies through the ACA, also known as Obamacare, critics say the waivers could allow states to offer ACA subsidies for subpar plans that don’t cover people with pre-existing conditions, one of the law’s requirements.

Senate Democrats forced a vote to try to repeal the rule Wednesday through a Congressional Review Act resolution.  Through this process, before a rule can take effect, the Senate and House can hold a vote to overturn it. However, it could only be blocked after passing both chambers and being signed by President Donald Trump, which was highly unlikely.

The measure failed in a 43-52 vote along party lines. While it was not expected to pass the GOP-controlled Senate, the move put pressure on Republicans to vote on a health care issue ahead of a presidential election year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the forced vote was a “political messaging exercise with no path to making an impact.” McConnell also said Republicans were not trying to cut protections to insured patients with pre-existing conditions.

“As Senate Republicans have said over and over, we support protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And the administration has made it very clear that this waiver program poses no threat to those protections,” McConnell said.

In a press conference before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was one of the most important votes of the year. Schumer also recently said that 400,000 American children under the age of 6 are currently without health insurance under other changes enacted by the administration.

“Look at everything happening now. Open enrollment for the ACA marketplaces starts Thursday, but the Trump administration has all but eliminated funding to help people sign up and get the coverage they need,” Schumer said Wednesday.

Speaking at the same press conference, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the waivers allow insurance companies to sell junk plans and take advantage of Americans. In effect, he said the rule will allow insurers to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize these subpar plans.

“Picture this in America: if you’re a person in the Pacific Northwest, struggling to pay for health care, you ought to know that Donald Trump wants you to have crummy health care coverage that actually pads the insurance company’s bottom line with your tax dollars,” Wyden said.

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