Republicans already paid a political price for their failure to repeal Obamacare just under two weeks ago, but Democrats are also preparing to make the GOP suffer at the ballot box in 2018 over their latest attempt to roll back the health care law.
As GOP leaders work to revive their Obamacare bill, Democrats are highlighting a provision in the early contours of the new proposal that could increase insurance costs for those with pre-existing conditions.
Conversations around the details of the new effort are taking place just as House members prepare to head home for a recess, in which, lawmakers — especially moderate Republicans — could face another round of angry protests at town halls.
“If I was a swing-district Republican told to vote for a bill as bad as the last one that now guts (protections for those with) pre-existing conditions too, I’d wonder what they were smoking,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who is consulting with groups opposing the repeal of Obamacare.
Though top Republicans cautioned Tuesday that no deal was imminent, a proposal being floated by the White House and members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus would let states opt out of two key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
One requires insurers to cover “essential health benefits” such as substance abuse and maternity care. Another forbids insurers from charging higher rates for people based on their medical history or gender.
In other words — it blocks insurers from hiking prices for people with pre-existing conditions.
Already, moderate House Republicans — many members of the organization the Tuesday Group — are balking at the contours of the new proposal.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania, said he is troubled by the idea of changing the “community rating” provision — which sets the rules on pre-existing conditions.
“My position remains the same and I’m still opposed to the bill in its current form even with the changes that I’ve heard suggested,” Dent said, emphasizing that he still hasn’t seen anything in writing.
Eager to avoid another public debacle, Republicans insisted they won’t move another health care bill so far along in the House unless they know it has the votes to win final passage.
That means the conservatives’ demands for changes to the pre-existing conditions rule — which they see as a way to lower health insurance prices for others — might never get a vote.
Asked if the GOP could try to move a health care bill again and fail, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said “no.”
“I think it would be a really devastating defeat,” he said. “We’re going to have to know we have the votes before we schedule a vote.”
Republicans who do vote for a bill that changes the rules on pre-existing conditions — especially those whose seats are considered vulnerable in the 2018 midterm elections — could be facing ready-made attack ads from Democrats.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had compiled a list Tuesday of public remarks from 48 Republican lawmakers, in which they pledged to retain coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. It included many of the GOP House members in swing districts.
“If vulnerable House Republicans decide to resurrect a deeply unpopular repeal bill that rips insurance away from 24 million, raises costs for hardworking families, slaps an age tax on older folks, and now removes protections for pre-existing conditions,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said, “they should all be prepared for their constituents to send them out to pasture.”