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Senate Republicans Back Trump’s ‘Junk’ Health-Care Plans in Floor Vote

Katelyn Burns

Health care has emerged as a key issue in this year’s midterm elections, as GOP elected officials scramble to deal with a significant shift in the popularity of Obamacare.

U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday forced a vote to support the roll back of a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule allowing for the sale of so-called junk health-care plans that became available last week.

The resolution failed to pass a floor vote, 50 to 50, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) voting with Democratic senators. Democrats called for a vote under a Senate procedure called the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to reverse agency rules. GOP senators in 2017 used this same law to overturn a spate of Obama-era rules.

The Trump administration “junk” plan rule lifted the ban on insurance companies selling short-term limited-duration plans and association health plans (AHP), both of which can flout certain regulations and requirements laid out in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as coverage for maternity care, prescription drugs, emergency services, mental health services, preventive care (including contraceptives), and hospitalization. Because these plans often don’t cover pre-existing conditions, sick people often can’t qualify for coverage and healthy people would have cheaper insurance plans with little to no basic coverage.

Before the vote, President Trump issued his first-ever veto threat over the joint resolution to over turn the rule.

Some states have banned the types of plans allowed under the rule, including California, New York, and Massachusetts. Democratic state attorneys general have sued over the Trump administration rule, arguing that it weakens consumer protections under the ACA, and that the DOL redefined the definition of “employer” in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

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A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis revealed that 71 percent of the Republican-backed “junk” plans do not cover outpatient prescription drugs, while 62 percent of these plans don’t cover substance abuse treatment. None of the “junk” health insurance plans cover maternity care. At least one congressional Republican has asked why men should pay for plans that include prenatal coverage and maternity care. 

More people buying the Trump administration’s so-called junk plans “would raise the cost of coverage for people with health conditions who remain in the ACA-compliant market,” according to the Kaiser analysis. 

“The Trump Administration is rewriting the rules on guaranteed health care protections that millions of Americans depend on. These junk insurance plans can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and don’t have to provide essential health services like prescription drugs, emergency room visits and maternity care,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who filed the discharge paperwork bringing the measure to the floor, said in a statement. “Anyone who says they support health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions should support this resolution. This is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to protect people’s access to quality, affordable health care when they need it most.”

Health care has emerged as a key issue in this year’s midterm elections, as GOP elected officials scramble to deal with a significant shift in the popularity of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. After years of campaigning on promises to repeal the landmark health-care legislation, a backlash threatens to sweep some Republican senators out of office in November. Though the joint resolution was never likely to pass the House, or be signed by the president, the Democratic move forced Republicans in close Senate races to record a key health-care vote less than a month before Election Day.

Among the no votes were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), both of whom are fighting for re-election against Democratic challengers who have made health care a central campaign issue this fall.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who has supported repealing the ACA as well as the Trump administration’s “junk” insurance rule, also voted no on the bill. He is locked in a tight race for re-election with challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). A spokesperson for Rosen pointed Rewire.News to a release regarding the House resolution to roll back the administration’s “junk” plan rule, which was not brought up for a floor vote by the GOP House majority.

“This reckless move could drive up health-care costs and enable big insurance companies to discriminate against Nevadans who have pre-existing medical conditions,” Rosen said. “I will continue to advocate for policies that stabilize our health-care markets, lower premiums and drug costs, and defend key consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act for people with pre-existing conditions.”

Heller’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The rule allowing for the sale of “junk” health insurance plans that aren’t subject to ACA regulations is one of many Republican efforts to chip away at the popular health-care law. Twenty Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit earlier this year seeking to gut the ACA. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers have pushed legislation to ostensibly protect patients with pre-existing conditions, though analysts have said it does nothing of the sort.

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