Sen. Susan Collins implored Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday to reconsider his hands-off approach to a lawsuit that seeks to gut Obamacare, saying nearly half of her state suffers from a pre-existing medical condition and would be at risk if the challenge strikes protections within the 2010 law.
“This is no small matter,” the Maine Republican wrote.
Ms. Collins rejected the GOP’s attempt to repeal to replace Obamacare last year, but she sided with Republicans who sapped President Obama’s “individual mandate” to hold insurance as part of a separate tax-cut bill.
She swung back at progressives who accused her of selling out sicker Americans, saying Senate leadership promised to hold votes on bills that would reel in any premium hikes that resulted from zeroing out the mandate’s tax penalty.
But she didn’t expect a coalition of GOP-led states to sue on grounds that if Congress is no longer demanding payment, it isn’t using the taxing powers the Supreme Court used to declare the mandate unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs say the rest of the law should fall, too, including provisions that require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and charge them the same as healthy customers.
The Justice Department recently said it won’t defend the 2010 law against the challenge, leaving Obamacare’s core protections to the mercy of the courts and blue-state attorneys general who’ve stepped in to defend them.
Ms. Collins said she still doesn’t like the individual mandate, since eight in 10 people who paid the tax made less than $50,000 per year. And she doesn’t dispute the idea that because the government won’t be collect penalties, starting in 2019, the mandate should no longer be considered a constitutional tax.
But she doesn’t think Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions should fall, too, since Congress spoke clearly on its tax bill last year.
“It is implausible that Congress intended protections for those with pre-existing conditions to stand or fall together with the individual mandate, when Congress affirmatively eliminated the penalty while leaving these critical consumer protections in place,” she wrote. “If Congress had intended to eliminate these consumer protections along with the individual mandate, it could have done so. It chose not to.”
Ms. Collins said she is a “longtime advocate” for protecting sicker Americans and that 590,000 Mainers — or 45 percent of the state population — suffers from pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday said a whopping two-thirds of voters see continuing Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions as “very important” to their vote.
“The Department should do its duty and defend the important consumer protections in the ACA, particularly those that ensure that people with pre-existing conditions can secure insurance,” Ms. Collins told Mr. Sessions.
Progressive groups warned Ms. Collins that Americans who rely on robust coverage in Obamacare’s exchanges would end up paying more if she cast a critical vote for the GOP tax bill and its attack on the mandate.
The senator pointed to GOP leaders’ vow to schedule votes on bills that would restore Obamacare’s “cost-sharing” payments to insurers and free up federal reinsurance dollars to bring premiums down.
Those bills never came up, however, because Democrats walked away from a bipartisan deal, blaming the GOP’s insistence on pro-life language that went beyond the status quo under Obamacare.
Pro-Obamacare groups say GOP senators like Ms. Collins will have another shot at defending the program by blocking whoever President Trump nominees to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on Wednesday.
“The Trump administration is explicitly asking the court to overturn protections for the 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, and now it is every senator’s responsibility to stand against any appointee who would vote to strip away these critical health protections for hundreds of millions of Americans,” said Brad Woodhouse, executive director of Protect Our Care.
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