Democrats pushed a strengthening of “Obamacare” patient protections toward House passage Monday, an effort they hoped would help them sharpen the coronavirus pandemic and President Donald Trump’s efforts to scuttle the increasingly popular law into a lethal election-year weapon.
The campaign-season bill seemed certain to move through the House along partisan lines. It has no chance of passing the Republican-led Senate and the White House threatened a veto, but the showdown underscored that health care looms as a major battleground in this year’s elections.
The legislation would increase subsidies that lower-earning people would receive to pay for coverage. It would cut federal payments to states that don’t expand Medicaid coverage to more Americans and let Medicare negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
For Democrats, the bill was a chance to showcase their support for expanding coverage under former President Barack Obama’s 2010 law. The statute has resulted in around 20 million additional people getting coverage and required insurers to cover beneficiaries with preexisting medical conditions and include children up to age 26 under their parents’ policies.
Debate came as the pandemic tears employer-provided health insurance from millions of Americans, and as Trump wants the Supreme Court to declare the entire statute unconstitutional.
Democrats were poised to use House GOP votes against the measure in campaign ads for this fall’s elections. During the 2018 elections, Democrats used the previous year’s failed effort by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal “Obamacare” as their chief campaign issue as they won 40 new House seats and captured control of the chamber.
“If there’s one word for this, cruel,” Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said of GOP efforts to scuttle the health care law.
Republicans said the measure was damaging and called it a political stunt. They said its funding cuts for states not expanding Medicaid — chiefly GOP-run states — would penalize them amid a pandemic, and said its provisions letting Medicare negotiate lower drug prices would discourage pharmaceutical companies from conducting research.
Trump won’t have to veto the measure because it will never reach him, but the White House voiced its objections anyway with a veto threat. A statement sent to lawmakers said the bill resorts to “the same expensive, inefficient, and bureaucratic approach to health coverage” that the health car law used, calling the bill “misguided and counter to the most urgent needs of the country.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said the measure is “vindictive and it’s probably unconstitutional.”
The White House filed papers with the Supreme Court last week supporting an effort by GOP-led states to have the entire “Obamacare” statute declared unconstitutional.