Democrats Pressure GOP With Obamacare Waiver Vote

WASHINGTON (CN) – Forcing a vote on health care as the 2020 election season heats up, Democrats introduced a resolution Wednesday to roll back a Trump administration rule making it easier for states to waive certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defends the Affordable Care Act at the U.S. Capitol in March after the Trump administration told the Fifth Circuit that the entire law should be struck down. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Last year, the Trump administration eased the process of approval for Section 1332 waivers, significantly broadening the types of insurance plans the waiver 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 plans that don’t cover people with pre-existing conditions, one of Obamacare’s requirements.

Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate announced Wednesday a plan to reverse the rule through a Congressional Rule Act resolution. If the resolution passes the Senate, Congress will then be allowed to review the rule and make a decision on its validity. Through a joint resolution, the waiver rule could be overturned.

While the resolution is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled Senate, it puts pressure on Republicans to vote on a health care measure ahead of a presidential election.

The resolution was introduced by Representative Annie Kuster, D-N.H., and Senator Mark Warner, D-Va.

“It’s clear that the Trump administration is determined to limit Americans’ access to health care and undermine protections for millions of people with pre-existing conditions,” Warner said in a statement. “We have an opportunity here to send a message to the president that instead of attacking the Affordable Care Act, he must work with Congress on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will lower health care costs and expand access to comprehensive, affordable health care coverage.”

The Trump administration has longed for a time it could fully dismantle the ACA. President Donald Trump said numerous times during his 2016 campaign he would do away with the law on his first day in office. Republicans have tried to repeal the law dozens of times to no avail.

In 2017, former House Speaker Paul Ryan championed the Health Care Freedom Act, or “Trumpcare,” which looked to eliminate the ACA’s individual markets without a comprehensive replacement. The bill was later voted down in the Senate.

In March, the Justice Department said it would no longer defend the ACA in a lawsuit filed by Texas and other Republican-led states to kill former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. The following month, Congress voted to condemn the administration’s attempts as an assault on Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Red states contend the entire law should fall after the repeal of an individual mandate penalty, which was originally upheld by the Supreme Court under Congress’ ability to tax and spend. However, the mandate’s penalty was eliminated in the Republican-enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Kuster, the New Hampshire Democrat who helped introduce the resolution Wednesday, has long advocated for protecting patients with pre-existing conditions.

In May, the House passed a bill introduced by Kuster that would nullify the Trump administration’s guidance on Section 1332, but it is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Americans are tired of political attacks on their health coverage, but the Trump administration continues its efforts to limit access to health care, undermine protections for millions with pre-existing conditions, and sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” Kuster said in a statement Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump’s claims to care about people with pre-existing conditions while rolling back their protections “reeks of the utmost hypocrisy.”

“I challenge my Republican colleagues who claim to support pre-existing condition protections to actually do something about it, and join us in voting in favor of our resolution to get rid of this harmful rule,” Schumer said Wednesday. “When Senate Democrats force a vote on this resolution, we will see if Republicans finally put their money where their mouth is.”

Representatives from the National Health Council, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Lung Foundation and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Association for Accessible Medicines, a group that advocates for more affordable and accessible prescriptions, declined to comment. Patients for Affordable Drugs, another advocacy group, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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