A series of stories this week puts the Trump administration’s years-long agenda to sabotage American health care into clear focus as a key deadline in their lawsuit to overturn the health care law approaches. On June 25th, the Trump administration and Republican-led states will file briefs in support of their lawsuit to overturn the ACA and rip health care from 20 million Americans, raise health care costs and gut protections for 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. Just days later, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats will bring legislation they introduced this week to the floor to build on the Affordable Care Act by lowering costs, expanding coverage and strengthening protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
Last week, Protect Our Care published a memo arguing that this is a consequential week for American health with one side trying to rip coverage away from millions of Americans in the middle of a pandemic while the other is trying to make health care more accessible and affordable for the American people.
Reporting this week from the New York Times as well as Bloomberg and Roll Call has reaffirmed the importance of this week’s developments for the future of health care by putting into “sharp focus” the Trump administration’s intentions to rip away health care from Americans during a pandemic, in contrast to Democrats’ plans to expand coverage and lower costs.
WASHINGTON — Republicans are increasingly worried that their decade-long push to repeal the Affordable Care Act will hurt them in the November elections, as coronavirus cases spike around the country and millions of Americans who have lost jobs during the pandemic lose their health coverage as well.
The issue will come into sharp focus this week, when the White House is expected to file legal briefs asking the Supreme Court to put an end to the program, popularly known as Obamacare. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seizing on the moment, will unveil a Democratic bill to lower the cost of health care, with a vote scheduled for next week in the House.
Republicans have long said their goal is to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act but have yet to agree on an alternative. This week’s back-to-back developments — Ms. Pelosi’s bill announcement on Wednesday, followed on Thursday by the administration’s legal filing — has put Republicans in a difficult spot, strategists say.
In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, jumped into the race to defeat the Republican incumbent, Senator Steve Daines, in March, just as the pandemic was exploding. Three days later, a liberal group, Protect Our Care, announced a $250,000 ad campaign attacking Mr. Daines as “dead set on taking on away Montanans’ health care” after voting five times to repeal the health law. Cook Political moved the race to its tossup column last week.
The coronavirus has changed the national discussion around health care in ways that go beyond the issue of cost. The pandemic has exposed racial disparities in care, making health care a more important issue for African-Americans and Latinos, core Democratic constituencies.
And with everyone at risk from a fast-spreading, and sometimes fatal, infectious disease, Democrats have an easier time making the case that everyone should be covered.
“For years, Republicans banked on the idea that people didn’t care about other people’s health care — that you would only care about your own, and their entire campaign against the Affordable Care Act was built on that assumption,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who specializes in health care messaging.
“People now see a clear and present threat when others don’t have health care,” he said. “Republicans have no response to that because their entire worldview on health care is built on an assumption that’s now out of date.”
And with Mr. Trump making dubious claims about health care — like suggesting people inject or drink bleach, and promoting an unproven malaria drug — Democrats are seeking to paint him and his party as ignorant on an important issue.
“We have become the party of health care — this is increasingly our brand, this is what we have fought for,” said Representative Cheri Bustos, Democrat of Illinois and the chairwoman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm. “They are becoming the party of drinking bleach.”
Ms. Pelosi’s bill is aimed at shoring up the Affordable Care Act, which she helped muscle through Congress during her first speakership, and reducing premiums, which are skyrocketing. Ms. Pelosi had intended to unveil the measure in early March, for the health law’s 10th anniversary, at a joint appearance with former President Barack Obama. But the event was canceled amid the mounting coronavirus threat.
The bill would expand subsidies for health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act so families would pay no more than 8.5 percent of their income for health coverage; allow the government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies; provide a path for uninsured pregnant women to be covered by Medicaid for a year after giving birth; and offer incentives to those states that have not expanded Medicaid under the law to do so.
The health law has already survived two court challenges. In the current Supreme Court case, 20 states, led by Texas, argue that when Congress eliminated the so-called individual mandate — the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance — lawmakers rendered the entire law unconstitutional. The Trump administration, though a defendant, supports the challenge.
Democrats, seeking to draw a contrast with President Donald Trump‘s health agenda before the November elections, plan to vote this week on a package of measures to strengthen Obamacare.
House leaders have timed the vote to coincide with an important deadline for a lawsuit, which the Trump administration supports, that challenges the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Groups aligned with Democrats will hold events all week with lawmakers in battleground states highlighting the legislation and condemning the lawsuit.
The goal is to recapture for the November elections some of the energy of the 2018 midterms, when Democrats regained control of the House. The party made health care a centerpiece of its campaign platform, and will attempt to hold on to 29 seats in districts that voted for Trump in 2016. Democrats are also eyeing the Senate, where they need a four-seat gain to take control—three if they win the White House.
The House is slated to vote on the bill June 25, the same date briefs are due in a lawsuit that could overturn the health-care law if successful.
“There’s not going to be a more clear opportunity to show how the different parties are approaching health care,” said Michael Feldman, a spokesman for Protect Our Care, a pro-Affordable Care Act organization that works closely with House Democrats. Feldman’s group is holding virtual events with lawmakers in 13 states including Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
Lawmakers in those states will look to highlight areas of the Affordable Care Act aiding those affected by the Coid-19 pandemic and the related rise in unemployment, such as the expansion of Medicaid.
House leaders Monday unveiled legislation (H.R. 1425) that would expand Obamacare’s insurance subsidies and encourage more states to extend eligibility for their public health insurance programs for the poor by reducing federal funds to those states for certain administrative services. The package would be paid for by legislation (H.R. 3) directing the government to demand lower drug prices for certain medications, another main tenet of the Democrats’ health agenda.
The legislation also would support adding more Americans to Medicaid rolls by giving states the option to raise the maximum income for enrollees. It would expand eligibility for premium tax credits beyond the current limit of 400% of the federal poverty line, extending subsidized private insurance to more Americans.
House Democrats on Monday released legislation to bolster the 2010 health care law, which the Rules Committee plans to consider this week.
The measure, which is expected to get a floor vote as soon as this month, comes as Democrats are betting that focusing on health care — a top priority for voters — will be to their advantage in the November elections.
Democratic campaign committees have said in recent weeks that health care is on the ballot in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups issued a joint memo last month explaining how a focus on health care would draw comparisons with Republicans up and down the ballot.
The vote on the House measure will come around the same time as the Trump administration and Republican attorneys general seeking to overturn the health care law are set to file their opening briefs to the Supreme Court in Texas v. California. Those states are set to file their opening briefs on Friday.