health care

Democrats Lose Senate Vote on Trump’s Junk Health Plans, But Send a Message

Tammy Baldwin led the “messaging” effort aimed at stopping Trump’s expansion of bare-bones health-insurance plans. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Republicans, who control Congress but struggle to get much done, are famed for their promotion of “messaging” bills that don’t change anything. This bills are basically vehicles for advancing their party’s messaging and putting Democrats on the spot. Recent examples include the “Tax Cut 2.0” bill which never had a chance of being enacted, and a measure to abolish ICE when was purely intended to make Democrats either embrace a controversial proposal or offend elements of their base (it didn’t work).

Senate Democrats turned the tables today with a resolution that would have canceled a Trump regulation greatly expanding the availability of short-term health-insurance plans that are exempt from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act — including, most importantly, coverage of preexisting conditions, the very popular requirement that Republicans are trying to pretend they favor even as they oppose Obamacare. The regulation in question, finalized on August 1, was succinctly described by Robert Pear at the time:

The Trump administration issued a final rule on Wednesday that clears the way for the sale of many more health insurance policies that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act and do not have to cover prescription drugs, maternity care or people with pre-existing medical conditions.

President Trump has said that he believes that the new “short-term, limited-duration insurance” could help millions of people who do not want or need comprehensive health insurance providing the full range of benefits required by the health law.

The new plans will provide “much less expensive health care at a much lower price,” Mr. Trump said. The prices may be lower because the benefits will be fewer, and insurers do not have to cover pre-existing conditions or the people who have them.

Democrats are fond of calling these plans “junk insurance” — the kind of insurance that made health-care reform necessary in the first place. And with Republicans on the defensive about preexisting conditions (thanks to the lawsuits they’ve backed aimed at killing Obamacare), Senate Democrats took a page out of the Republican playbook by pursuing a disapproval of the Trump regulation under the provisions of the Congressional Review Act, which the GOP used to kill a batch of regulations the Obama administration promulgated late in his presidency. CRA also provides a way to force resolutions of disapproval past hostile Senate committees through a discharge petition that brings such measures straight to the floor if 30 senators sign on. With every Democrat onboard, Tammy Baldwin’s resolution got its floor vote. And while it failed to get a majority (only Susan Collins crossed the aisle to support it), and would have died in the House in any event, it did accomplish its “messaging” purpose. For one thing, the effort triggered an explicit, written Trump veto threat — the first of his presidency. For another, it allowed Democrats to explain what these wonderful cost-saving policies — which Trump would allow to stay in place for up to three full years — really meant:

“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.

With Democrats pressing their advantage on health-care policy all over the country in the run-up to the midterm elections in November, this symbolic measure had some very real political value.

Democrats Lose Vote on Junk Health Plans, But Send a Message