A long-shot bid to derail the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health plans died in the Senate on Wednesday, even with Sen. Susan Collins providing the lone Republican vote for the resolution.
The Senate vote ended in a 50-50 tie, falling short of the majority needed to pass the measure reversing new regulations allowing insurers to sell skimpy health plans outside the Obamacare markets for up to a year, rather than the previous limit of three months.
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The Trump administration has touted the expanded plans as a cheaper alternative to Obamacare, but Democrats and health groups have warned it would undermine the Obamacare market. In recent weeks, Democrats have tried to tie the short-term health plans to broader warnings about GOP efforts to gut protections for pre-existing conditions.
“These junk insurance plans can deny health care coverage to people with pre-existing conditions when they need it the most,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who authored the resolution and has made Obamacare’s patient benefits a central theme of her reelection campaign. “We can’t go back to the days when insurance companies wrote the rules, just as we cannot allow the Trump administration to rewrite the rules on guaranteed health care protections.”
The resolution, even if it had survived the Senate, had no chance of passage in the GOP-controlled House, and the Trump administration on Tuesday issued its first-ever veto threat on the measure.
But Democrats, energized by Obamacare’s newfound popularity, hoped pushing it through the Senate would amount to a symbolic rebuke and force vulnerable Republicans like Nevada Sen. Dean Heller to take a difficult vote just before November’s midterms.
“We’ve got to use whatever levers we have to make people understand the stakes of this election when it comes to health care,” said Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who said the resolution was a “preview” of what Democrats would bring to the floor if they win back the House or Senate. “And sometimes we win votes before we lose votes. Putting people on the record often is a useful exercise to ultimately win them over to your side later on.”
Collins, days after her support for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court angered Democrats, didn’t previously signal how she would vote on the health care resolution. She told reporters she was concerned about the impact the plans could have on pre-existing condition protections, even if they cost less.
“We do have an affordability problem, but I don’t think the answer is to wipe out consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” Collins said after the vote.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who like Collins voted against Obamacare repeal last year, came out against the resolution on Tuesday, contending short-term plans could provide a cheaper option for Alaskans facing the highest health care costs in the country.
Republicans have dismissed concerns about short-term plans hurting them at the polls, arguing the Trump administration reversed limits the Obama administration had put on the plans just two years ago. The Trump administration went a step further, however, by allowing the short-term plans to be renewed for up to three years.
“Now we’re being asked to say, you can’t have a 70 percent reduction in your health insurance, the same kind of proposal that you had all during the Obama years,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “We’re going to say to 1.7 million people who are uninsured, no you can’t buy this insurance because we know more than you do.”
Senate Democrats defending 10 seats in states Trump won in 2016 have latched onto health care as a key issue, casting themselves as protectors of Obamacare’s popular consumer benefits.