House Democrats plan to hold a vote early next year on protecting health coverage for people with preexisting conditions — testing GOP commitments to such protections that many Republicans adopted during difficult reelection campaigns.
Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), who will be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee next year, said such a vote should happen immediately upon Democrats assuming control of the House in January.
The vote would be the natural sequel to Democrats’ successful midterm strategy of focusing on health care and attacking Republicans relentlessly over their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which included landmark preexisting-condition protections.
During the campaign, many Republicans insisted they wanted preexisting conditions protected, a shift Democrats called disingenuous. A vote on the issue would give Republicans a chance to follow through.
“We need a vote on preexisting conditions right away,” Neal said in a post-election interview in his hometown of Springfield, Mass., on Wednesday. “We said that was one of the cornerstones of the ACA. After they saw how badly their position was polling on it, they said they were for it.”
Neal said he envisioned legislation that would affirm guaranteed coverage for preexisting conditions as settled law — and that would strike back at the lawsuit 20 Republican-led states are pursuing in federal court in Texas, with the support of the Trump administration, to declare the ACA unconstitutional.
“We can’t go back and forth on these things every election cycle. Let’s establish the principle, embrace it and move on,” Neal said of requiring insurers to cover patients with preexisting conditions. “I think we’d have to come up with something that promoted the idea that it wasn’t going away. And the attorneys general of the United States, the 20 attorneys general, should not be seeking relief in a Texas federal court.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is the leading candidate to become House speaker next year, supports the strategy, said Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly.
“Voters across the country have delivered a resounding verdict against Republicans’ war on health care,” Connelly said. “The new Democratic House majority will move swiftly to defend the vital protections for people with preexisting conditions still under legal assault by the GOP.”
Legislation on preexisting conditions might not make it through the Senate, which will remain under Republican control next year. But it would be a key element of Democrats’ messaging as they assume control of the House and work to take action on their campaign promises.
If Republicans and President Trump did go along with Democratic legislation on preexisting conditions, that would move Democrats toward their long-held goal of protecting as much of the ACA as they can. Trump, too, has long insisted he wants to safeguard protections for people with preexisting conditions.
Neal also said that Democrats would advance legislation to undo regulations released by the Trump administration that undermine the ACA.
After the GOP-controlled Congress’s failure last year to repeal Obamacare, the administration has taken various steps to loosen the law’s provisions. The administration has expanded availability of health plans that circumvent some ACA coverage requirements, including inexpensive plans originally intended for short-term use that do not have to cover preexisting conditions.
“We devised much of the health-care bill, and I think that where we did legislation they’re using administrative rulings to pick it apart,” Neal said. “So I think addressing some of those issues, again, with legislation — at least getting it out of the House for the purpose of getting everybody’s attention — would make a good deal of sense.”
Neal added: “Say what you want about the legislation called ACA. You had a chance to vote for it or against it, as opposed to farming it out to the fourth branch of government, the administrative branch.”
As Ways and Means Committee chairman, Neal, 69, who was first elected to the House in 1988, will have jurisdiction over tax policy, including the new $1.5 trillion tax cut law that Democrats unanimously opposed. But in contrast to Republicans’ long-running campaign against the ACA, which included scores of repeal votes beginning when Republicans took control of the House in 2010, Neal said he does not plan to move to roll back the tax law.
He said that he would hold hearings on the legislation but added that any tax policy he advanced would be bipartisan. He said Democrats were not elected to the majority to pursue payback.
“I don’t want to say that all of a sudden we won so we can be punitive or small-minded,” Neal said. “I want to get past that idea.”