Ask Americans whether the federal government should require health insurers to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and a vast majority-92% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans-say yes.
So what part of Obamacare is the Trump administration trying to kill? The mandate to cover pre-existing conditions, which has been a blessing for people who buy insurance on the individual market.
This would harm those people, and politically it’s not very smart, either. It hands Democrats another issue to use in their battle to win back the House and the Senate in November’s elections.
Even Trump-who has been cheerleader in chief for killing Obamacare-has previously defended this core provision. In February 2017, he told a joint session of Congress: “First, we should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage.”
He was right then.
Covering pre-existing conditions-asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and others-is a matter of basic fairness and survival. Health insurance is designed to ensure care when a serious medical condition strikes, one that average people can’t afford to cover on their own.
Penalizing people who suffer from such conditions, by refusing coverage or pricing it beyond their reach, defeats the purpose of insurance. Yet that’s what insurers did before Obamacare became law in 2010.
While parts of the law remain controversial, people across the political spectrum have embraced this critical guarantee so they and their loved ones are not left unprotected. According to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll last June, 77% of registered voters said keeping the guarantee in any health care plan is “very important” to them.
Efforts to repeal Obamacare have failed, but in their huge tax cut measure last year, Republicans destabilized the health care law by repealing the penalty that people must pay for failing to buy health insurance. That removed a huge incentive for the young and healthy to purchase policies, enabling insurers to cover sick people.
In February, the attorneys general of 20 states, led by Texas, filed suit to have the whole Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional. And last week, the Justice Department-which almost always defends the nation’s laws-sided for the most part with the challengers, including seeking to undo the pre-existing condition requirement.
The Obama administration, which refused in 2011 to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in court, opened the door to this sort of action. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions should not have followed that dubious precedent.
The health case, which many experts believe is weak, could nevertheless reach the Supreme Court. But weak or not, the uncertainty it brings could push insurance premiums higher. And if the Justice Department prevails, many Americans who gained coverage could lose it.
Such a deplorable outcome is not something any administration should seek.
Looking for political cover, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday, “Everybody I know in the Senate, everybody is in favor of maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions. There is no difference of opinion about that whatsoever.” Added, US Today.