House votes to strengthen Obamacare, issue that helped N.J. Democrats in last election
Health care was the No. 1 issue two years ago, when Democrats captured four Republican-held House seats in New Jersey and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez beat back a well-funded challenge from a former drug company executive.
The House on Monday returned to that issue as lawmakers voted largely along party lines, 234-179, to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, even as President Donald Trump renewed his plea to the Supreme Court to kill it and threatened to veto this legislation.
In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 56% of U.S. voters disapprove of the way Trump has handled health care, compared with 39% who approve. And by 55% to 41%, they said presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden would do a better job on health care than Trump.
Only two Republicans supported the bill. One was Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist., who had backed earlier efforts to strengthen the ACA when he was a Democrat. The other was Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
Rep. Chris Smith, one of only five Republicans to support a May 2019 Democratic bill to strengthen the health care law, voted no this time around. The Republican-controlled Senate, which fell just one vote short of repealing the ACA in 2017, has refused to take up that legislation.
The vote took place in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when thousands of Americans have lost their jobs and their insurance in the ongoing economic downturn. Enrollment in NJ FamilyCare has grown by 88,500 since March.
“As Americans continue to face both the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe economic downturn, they are justifiably concerned about their health and their financial future,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist.
The bill would make more Americans eligible for tax credits and increase the amount they would receive, create a national reinsurance program to help cover patients with high medical costs, and pay 100% of the costs of expanding Medicaid for those states that have yet to do so.
The measure also would provide federal aid to states to help them lower deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, and to help them set up their own marketplaces, as New Jersey is doing.
And it would stop the Trump administration from allowing the sale of insurance plans that have lower premiums because they do not cover pre-existing conditions and do not provide many other benefits required under Obamacare.
The expanded ACA coverage would be paid for through lower drug prices since Medicare would be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. Those lower prices also would be extended to private insurance plans.
Health care was a big issue two years ago in New Jersey’s 3rd District, where Democrat Andy Kim ousted Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur, who played a major role in the House Republican repeal effort to abolish Obamacare.
New Jersey Republicans now trying to win back the congressional seats they lost in 2018 have shied away from supporting an Affordable Care Act repeal.
Trump and several Republican-run states have asked the Supreme Court to throw out the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for those with pre-existing conditions, the expansion of Medicaid, and the subsidies that make insurance affordable.
New Jersey is one of the states that have asked the Supreme Court to uphold the law.
“The choice we have is clear: We can make sure more of our neighbors can access affordable health care, or we can let the Trump administration kick them off their plans and leave them in the cold,” Kim said.
If the lawsuit succeeds, 225,000 New Jerseyans with pre-existing health conditions could lose coverage, face unaffordable premiums or be unable to find any insurance at all, according to a 2018 study by the House Oversight Committee Democratic staff.
And 595,000 additional New Jerseyans would not have health coverage and another 181,000 would lose their tax credits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive research group.