Pelosi Sets House Vote on Bill to Expand Obamacare

The bill is highly unlikely to pass in the Senate, but the House vote will put the Trump administration’s position on health care in the spotlight just months before the presidential election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a Wednesday news conference unveiling changes to the federal health care law. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Calling President Donald Trump’s push to eliminate the Affordable Care Act during a pandemic “beyond stupid,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday her chamber will vote next week on a bill to expand the health care law known as Obamacare.

The California Democrat unveiled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act on Wednesday, just one day before the White House is expected to file briefs with the nation’s highest court calling for the justices to overturn the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislative accomplishment of former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration argues the law is unconstitutional on its face.

While the current administration doesn’t have a replacement prepared, it has long taken umbrage with Obamacare and President Donald Trump used its potential repeal as a campaign cornerstone in 2016.

The new bill will expand eligibility for insurance premium tax credits and other subsidies for individuals and families and seeks to wind back the Trump administration’s modifications to out-of-pocket limits for insurance. According to Pelosi, these changes will give more people access to insurance who couldn’t afford it before.

Medicare would also be in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiating prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and if passed, incentives would be provided to over a dozen states that have not expanded their own Medicaid programs.

Passage of the bill is highly unlikely in the Senate even if it vaults through the Democrat-controlled House on Monday. What the House vote will do, however, is place the White House’s position on health care in the spotlight just months before the presidential election and as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to bear down on America. 

“The Supreme Court will hear the brief from the administration as to taking down the Affordable Care Act right in the heart of the time of the pandemic,” Pelosi said during a press conference Wednesday. “It was wrong any time, now it is beyond stupid.  Beyond stupid.”

President Trump first tried to repeal Obamacare in 2017 while the GOP controlled both the House and Senate. Republican Senators could not get the votes to scrap the health care law and ultimately lost support from the late Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senators Rand Paul and Susan Collins of Kentucky and Maine, respectively.

Collins bailed on the bill after the Congressional Budget Office published an analysis finding the GOP’s reversal would bounce millions of Americans off insurance altogether. McCain objected largely on the grounds that the process to repeal was being rushed and a replacement was uncertain. Senator Paul, at the time, felt the repeal effort didn’t do enough.

A blue wave of Democrats elected to the House changed the dynamic in 2018, giving the new majority a chance to defend Obamacare and specific provisions that stop insurance companies from denying insurance to people with preexisting conditions.

Referring to an administration official who appeared on TV recently and said the GOP was not interested in making preexisting conditions an “obstacle” to health care or insurance, Pelosi retorted: “Oh really? Then get off the case. Tell the president to get off the case.”

The Fifth Circuit ruled last December that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate – a tax penalty against those who can afford health care but choose not to buy it – is unconstitutional after Congress removed the penalty through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The Supreme Court has seen this fight before. It upheld the individual mandate in 2012 despite fierce contention over whether Americans forced to pay penalties for lack of coverage was lawful. The high court found, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, that the mandate penalty is legal given Congress’ powers to levy taxes

With passage of the new bill expanding Obamacare, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said roughly 4 million more Americans would gain access to affordable health insurance as unemployment claims soar and the U.S. economy continues to strain under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Trump administration’s push to repeal protections for those with preexisting conditions, especially “at a time when we are facing a pandemic where those with preexisting conditions are at greatest risk” is “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” said Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As of Wednesday, the U.S leads the world in confirmed Covid-19 infections, exceeding 2.3 million cases. Nearly 122,000 Americans have died, according to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 tracker.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last September that 90% of Americans were covered by insurance, with nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population using private health insurance over government plans. The number of uninsured people went up in the last two years, however, with some 500,000 Americans losing coverage.

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