Democrats are desperately trying to pivot the political conversation to health care, warning voters that the fate of their coverage — and protections for pre-existing conditions — depends on who wins control of Congress in this year’s elections.
Even as they battle over immigration policy and who’s to blame for the uncivil political environment, Democrats said it’s time to get focused on health policy, after the Trump administration refused to defend Obamacare against a state-driven lawsuit that threatens core protections for sicker Americans.
“I suspect the ones that make health care an issue will do much better than others. People understand it,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, Virginia Democrat.
He said Democrats ran and won on the issue in statehouse elections over the last year, capturing seats that had been deep-red for years, and he predicted that trend will continue.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll being released Wednesday signaled the public is primed for Democrats to make their case.
About a quarter of voters say health care is the most important issue for them heading into the midterms — about the same share of those citing the economy and jobs. Plus, a whopping two-thirds of voters see continuing Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions as “very important” to their vote.
That’s key, because the Trump administration recently told a federal judge that if he strikes down Obamacare’s “individual mandate” to hold insurance, then he should invalidate parts of the law requiring insurers to cover sick Americans and charge them the same as healthy customers.
“Put simply, President Trump turned his back on the most popular and humane advancement in our health care system,” said Senate Minority Charles E. Schumer on Tuesday at a Capitol Hill rally with the most sympathetic figures in the health care debate — children with serious health problems and their families.
Democrats are battling to shift attention to the issue, but it’s been uphill.
Even as Democrats rallied with children in wheelchairs, the nation’s capital was gripped by the Supreme Court’s decision on Mr. Trump’s travel ban.
Health care reform is “a fading blip amidst all of the other dramas on the screen, except in the minds of people with pre-existing health problems whose ability to get or maintain health coverage is tenuous,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.
But if Mr. Trump kicks that “hornets nest” on the cusp of the election, “the issue will re-emerge and a constituency will be mobilized,” he said.
Democrats are convinced Obamacare can be a unifying force for their party, overcoming other internal divisions.
Some are seeking any opportunity to bring the debate back to health.
When Mr. Trump’s chief spokeswoman was kicked out of a Virginia restaurant this weekend, Sen. Brian Schatz said he thought of health care.
“I just heard about a restaurant kicking Sarah Sanders out,” he tweeted, “and it’s got me thinking that Democrats have to be talking about health care today and every day till the election.”
Once deeply unpopular, Obamacare now polls well.
And Republicans, who promised to repeal and replace the law, instead struck a non-fatal blow, erasing the individual mandate requiring Americans to hold insurance, but leaving in place the exchange markets, generous subsidies and massive Medicaid expansion.
The administration has tried to fill the gap, drafting rules that extend cheaper options to healthy people and zeroing out the penalty for lacking insurance.
“It’s all right, because we’ve essentially gutted it anyway,” Mr. Trump told rally goers in Nevada on Saturday.
Senate Democrats said those comments show Republicans own the surge in health premiums that Obamacare customers are bracing for.
“You all are in charge of health care. You control White House, you control Congress,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, told Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II on Tuesday. “I’ve not seen the president at a rally saying, ‘Let’s pass the [cost-sharing reductions]. I’ve not heard him at a rally saying, ‘Let’s stabilize with reinsurance.’ I’ve heard him say, ‘We’ve gutted it.’ “
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch chided the senator, noting Democrats could have had those things but walked away from a bipartisan deal.
Democrats say the GOP’s insistence on pro-life language, which went beyond the status quo under Obamacare, killed the deal.
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