POLITICS

Senate Rejects Measure Trying To Nullify Trump's Obamacare Waivers

Democrats sought to overturn the Trump administration's rule allowing people to purchase cheaper insurance plans that exclude key Obamacare benefits.

The Senate on Wednesday rejected a Democratic effort to overturn Trump administration regulations allowing cheaper health insurance options that exclude key benefits under the Affordable Care Act and aren’t generally available to people with preexisting conditions.

The vote on the resolution of disapproval was 43 to 52.

Last year, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, announced it would let states alter existing Obamacare rules known as “1332 waivers” for the distribution and use of federal health insurance tax credits to allow people to purchase cheaper insurance plans that exclude key benefits, like full prescription coverage, maternity costs or inpatient psychiatric care.

The plans are less expensive because they cover fewer services, and, unlike under Obamacare, people who have serious, expensive-to-treat medical problems can’t get them. Moreover, experts say they would undermine Obamacare’s health exchange markets by allowing healthier customers to flock to the skimpier plans, resulting in higher premiums for those who want or need more comprehensive coverage.

The rule change was among a number of ways the Trump administration has tried to weaken the health care law after failing to repeal it in Congress in 2017, including repealing its individual mandate and imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients. 

The administration has also backed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the entire law in the courts ― including its popular protections for people with preexisting protections ― without proposing an alternative plan if that does occur.

“The hypocrisy from President Trump and Republicans when it comes to preexisting conditions protections is just stark. My Republican colleagues know that these plans cover next to nothing for those who get sick and are often completely unaffordable to the average family,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.

Democrats were able to bring the measure seeking to overturn the rule change to the floor on Wednesday under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to pass a resolution invalidating federal regulations after 60 days of being promulgated.

While the vote on the measure was destined to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate from the outset, it does allow Democrats to put vulnerable Republicans on the spot ahead of the 2020 election. The topic of health care and preexisting conditions, in particular, was a big issue during the 2018 midterm elections when Democrats won the House.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is facing a tough reelection fight next year, was the only Republican who voted with Democrats in support of the measure.

This story has been updated to note Collins’ vote.

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