Tuesday, June 12, 2018

McConnell says whole Senate backs continued coverage of pre-existing conditions, contrary to Justice Dept. stance in lawsuit

Sen. Mitch McConnell (NBC News image)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says "Everybody that I know in the Senate is in favor of maintaining coverage for preexisting conditions," even though the Trump administration is arguing in court against the Obamacare law that requires such coverage. “There is no difference of opinion about that whatsoever,” McConnell said Tuesday, June 12, when asked about the case.

Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the Department of Justice's stance in a federal lawsuit in Texas is “as far-fetched as any I've ever heard.” In a prepared statement, the Tennessee senator said, “There’s no way Congress is going to repeal protections for people with pre-existing conditions who want to buy health insurance. 

Alexander "rejected the notion that Republican lawmakers intended a broader swipe at the law when they repealed the individual mandate" in Obamacare, Inside Health Policy reports.

On June 7, the department declined to fully defend the law from a suit by 20 Republican-led states and asked the judge "to invalidate the preexisting-conditions ban as of Jan. 1, 2019, when the individual mandate penalty goes away," IHP reports.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said earlier Tuesday, during a Senate hearing, that the Justice Department has taken “constitutional and legal position, not a policy position,” Anna Edney and Steven T. Dennis report for Bloomberg News: "Still, the distinction is political. Republicans were quick to blame Democrats for failing to vote for an Obamacare stabilization package earlier this year that started off as bipartisan but ended up including restrictions on abortion coverage that scuttled the deal."

Democrats' reaction to McConnell's comments ranged from bemused to skeptical to outraged. “Lie of the year. Hands down,” said Brad Woodhouse, campaign director for Protect Our Care, a pro-Obamacare group.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, ranking Democrat on the health committee, said, “If every Republican now supports protecting preexisting conditions, that’s news to very sick patients across the country who fought back again and again as Republicans tried to go back to the days when a preexisting condition meant you might not be eligible for insurance, or could be priced out completely -- especially since many Republicans continue to want to pass harmful bills to do exactly that.”

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