Senate Democrats fail to unravel Trump policy that weakens Obamacare

Tammy Baldwin asks Republican colleagues to consider the consequences

President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (left) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in the East Room of the White House, March 23, 2010.
President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (left) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (photo courtesy of the Barack Obama Presidential library)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Democrats failed on Wednesday to overturn a Trump administration policy that allows states to ignore certain requirements of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. 

Democrats forced a Senate floor vote on a resolution that sought to unravel the controversial Trump administration health care rule. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins was the lone Republican to vote for the resolution, which failed by a vote of 43-52. 

The effort was seen as symbolic, given that there was virtually no chance of it winning support from the GOP-controlled Senate and the White House. Senate Democrats said it was an opportunity to put their colleagues on the record backing a Trump administration rule that would weaken health care protections. 

The policy in question allows states to skirt certain requirements in the Affordable Care Act. It would allow states, for example, to use federal cash to subsidize some short-term insurance plans with limited protections for people with pre-existing conditions, The New York Times reported last year when the policy was rolled out. 

Democrats in Congress have railed against the Trump administration policy for allowing a proliferation of “junk” insurance plans that don’t provide the comprehensive coverage envisioned by the sweeping health care law. 

“The administration has worked to make it easier for states to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize these junk insurance plans, many of which don’t cover essential benefits like maternity care, preventative screening and mental health care,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote. “These junk plans leave families vulnerable and are nothing but a boon to health insurance companies.” 

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the lead sponsor of the resolution, said ahead of the vote, “The Trump administration’s rule is not a good faith effort to bring down cost or drive innovation. It is a direct effort to undermine the stability of the insurance market and it is an attack on the viability of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.” 

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin portrayed the rule as the administration’s latest attack on Americans with pre-existing health conditions. 

“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle to think about this for a moment,” she said. “President Trump supports overturning the law that provides protections for people with pre-existing conditions while he is expanding these junk plans that don’t provide those protections.” 

Baldwin has authored two measures — one that would cancel the administration’s expansion of the so-called “junk” plans, and another to restore funding for the ACA’s Navigator program, which assisted families in their search for health insurance plans through the ACA. The Trump administration has cut funding for the program by 84% since Trump took office.

Senate Republicans blocked a vote Wednesday on both bills.

The Trump administration has argued in federal court that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down. 

Stewart Boss, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said in a statement following the vote, “Senate Republicans are once again showing why they have no credibility when it comes to protecting their constituents’ health care. By throwing their support behind these junk plans, vulnerable GOP incumbents are recklessly exposing their constituents to higher costs, unreliable care, and weaker protections for critical benefits like pre-existing conditions coverage and maternity care.”

Five Democrats who are seeking the 2020 presidential nomination missed the vote on Wednesday: Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Kamala Harris of California; Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. 

Republicans have defended the policy shift in the new rule, arguing that it provides more flexibility for states. 

“Our Democratic colleagues want to roll back the Trump administration guidance and limit state flexibility,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. He called it “just another political messaging exercise with no path to making an impact.”