Congress

Senate Democrats to force vote on Trump health care rule

Resolution looks to block rulemaking on short-term health insurance

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said "These plans let the insurance companies get away with everything, even murder, figuratively speaking.” (File photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats unveiled plans Wednesday to force a vote on Trump administration health insurance guidance that could make it easier for states to get waivers from the 2010 health care law's requirements.

“What we're talking about today is granting waivers to states to offer junk insurance plans,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a press conference. “These plans let the insurance companies get away with everything, even murder, figuratively speaking.” 

[Federal appeals court questions legality of Obamacare insurance mandate]

In October 2018, the administration put forward guidance to make it easier for states to make broader changes and subsidize policies that don’t meet the health care law's standards.

All Democratic senators o-sponsored a Congressional Review Act joint resolution to roll back the changes by the Trump administration to the law's 1332 waiver policy.

The CRA allows Congress to repeal a federal agency rule and for votes to be called in the Senate without the mandatory 60 votes.

"We don't have that many opportunities, given Mitch McConnell not putting anything on the floor,” Schumer said. “This is one of the ways, one of the few, that we can overcome this legislative graveyard.”

The health care law allowed states to get waivers if they presented a proposal that wouldn't result in coverage that is less comprehensive, more expensive and covers fewer people than under the law. The 2018 guidance would give states more leeway.

One criticism of the change is that it would allow states to get federal subsidies for plans, such as short-term insurance, that are not required to comply with key health care law requirements, including pre-existing condition coverage protections. 

"Many of my Republican colleagues always say no, they're for protecting folks with pre-existing conditions,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said. “With this CRA vote, there's a chance for them to prove whether they actually support continuing the protections.”

Schumer was joined by several colleagues in a press conference announcing the resolution, including Warner and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote the waiver language in the 2010 law.

"If a state wants to do more to help people, they can use this provision to do so,” Wyden said. “What the Republicans have said is nope, we're not interested in using that rule to do better."

The Trump administration changed short-term plans so that they could last for almost a year. That's somewhat similar to what was allowed during part of the Obama administration, but later in his administration, President Barack Obama limited their duration to three months.

Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office ruled that the guidance can be considered a rule; thus, it could be repealed under the CRA.

It's unlikely that the resolution will pass the Senate. Even if it does and passes the House, it's likely that Trump will veto it. Democrats lack the needed votes to override a veto.

But for Democrats, this resolution is an opportunity to put Republicans in the spotlight on a key issue in the upcoming election.

“This vote will be a test,” Schumer said. “This CRA is going to force our Republican colleagues to put their money where their mouth is." 

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