Senate Democrats fell one vote short Wednesday in a bid to overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health insurance plans that do not have to cover preexisting conditions and certain kinds of health care that the Affordable Care Act requires.
By forcing a vote on what they term “junk” plans, however, Democrats managed to put a spotlight on a key issue they argue will cut their way in next month’s midterm elections, where control of both the House and the Senate are in play.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined with Democrats in supporting the resolution, which was opposed by the chamber’s other 50 Republicans.
To succeed, Democrats would have needed to lure the votes of at least two Republican senators in a chamber where the GOP has a 51-to-49 majority.
The resolution, spearheaded by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), was brought to the floor after obtaining far more than the 30 signatures required to bypass the committee process and force a full Senate vote.
The resolution sought to overturn an administration rule finalized in August that Republicans argue offers cheaper alternatives to consumers interested in less comprehensive health plans than mandated by President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care law.
On Tuesday night, President Trump issued the first veto threat of his tenure, making clear he would veto the Democratic measure if it reached his desk.
“These plans are cheap for a reason,” Baldwin said in a floor speech before the vote. “They do not have to provide essential health benefits like hospitalization, prescription drugs and maternity care.”
Baldwin pointed to one plan sold in her state that she said does not cover hospital care on a Friday or Saturday.
“So, it will just be your bad luck if you happen to get sick and need health care on the weekend,” she said.
Baldwin also said that requiring coverage of preexisting conditions is personal for her. She relayed that when she was 9, she was really sick and hospitalized for three months.
“I eventually recovered,” she said. “But when it came to health insurance, it was like I had some sort of scarlet letter. My grandparents, who raised me, couldn’t find a policy at any price that would cover me . . . All because I was a child who had been branded with those words: ‘preexisting condition.’ ”
In a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested that Democrats forced a vote on the resolution because they are “embarrassed by the state of Obamacare.”
“It’s been more than eight years since they passed their signature law that was supposed to make it all better,” McConnell said. “Instead, working Americans are saddled with increasing costs and decreasing choices. But surely they must have a better answer than snatching away one of the remaining options that some Americans still prefer to anything Democrats have come up with . . . The last thing we should do is destroy one of the options that’s still actually working for American families.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) countered that the Trump administration is letting people “be duped into thinking they’re having insurance when it covers almost nothing.”
The limited plans, he said, “are a massive risk to any family who purchase them and worse.”