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Republicans test whether ‘lying to the voter’ is a pre-existing condition

Three Pinocchios for three vulnerable House Republicans.

Rep. George Holding (R-NC) campaign ad screenshot
CREDIT: Rep. George Holding (R-NC) campaign ad screenshot

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 banned the long-standing practice of health insurers discriminating against customers on the basis of their pre-existing conditions. The Trumpcare legislation that narrowly passed the House of Representatives last May would have repealed these protections and replaced them with a system in which insurers could charge much higher premiums to those patients. Now, vulnerable House Republicans who voted for the wildly unpopular bill have to defend their votes this midterm election. Several of these representatives have chosen an interesting strategy: lie to the voters about it.

Republican Rep. George Holding, who represents North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, voted for the American Health Care Act, the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal proposal. A July ad by the North Carolinians for a Fair Economy, an advocacy group that opposes Trumpcare, featured families who would be “devastated by Congressman George Holding’s vote to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.”

In a response spot posted a few weeks ago called “Answer,” Holding actually shows part of the spot misleadingly describing it as an “ad to elect Linda Coleman,” the Democratic nominee against him. On Holding’s behalf, an unidentified woman shakes her head and scolds, “Don’t be fooled. The fact is George Holding voted to make insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions. The ad is false and Linda Coleman knows it.” On the screen, the sourcing for the claim is revealed to be his vote for the Trumpcare bill.

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The claim is false: Trumpcare bill did away with protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. A recent Washington Post fact-check gave “Three Pinocchios” to other GOP claims that the legislation actually protected pre-existing conditions. In the ad, Holding tries to pull a bait-and-switch, saying that the claim that he voted to allow discrimination against people is false because he would require coverage be available. Under that logic, for example, a law that allowed hotels to charge women ten times more than men would not be discriminatory as long as they were required to rent to both genders.

Republican Rep. Steve Chabot from Ohio’s 1st Congressional District also voted for Trumpcare. In his recent spots, he attempts to present himself as a defender of those with pre-existing conditions and to falsely accuse Democratic nominee Aftab Pureval of unspecified lies suggesting otherwise.

To “prove” the claim that Chabot has “always supported coverage for pre-existing conditions,” the ad shows the URL for a 2013 HuffPost story. That article quoted him as supporting defunding Obamacare overall but keeping some parts of the legislation, like the popular ban on pre-existing condition discrimination. But Chabot still failed to explain how such a system would be workable without the other mandates that enabled the protections. Furthermore, in the decades he’s been in office (from 1995 to present, except for a two-year stretch from 2009 to 2011), Chabot has never taken meaningful steps to protect patients from this kind of discrimination.

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In a new ad released Wednesday, Republican Rep. Rodney Davis from the 13th Congressional District in Illinois, became the latest Trumpcare supporter to join in the fun. In his spot, he actually puts his wife Shannon — who says she herself has a pre-existing medical condition — on camera to claim that “the attacks on Rodney are just ridiculous.” The spot shows a snippet of outside group’s ad apparently in support of Democratic nominee Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and Shannon Davis saying her husband’s “ultimate goal is to make sure everyone has the healthcare that they want and the choices and the options that they choose.” Though she claims the issue is “personal to us,” she never specifically refutes the fact that her husband voted to repeal the protections she now enjoys.

And it’s not just House races. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who is facing a tough re-election challenge from Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, also released an ad earlier this month claiming that he is “fighting to protect pre-existing conditions,” despite his votes for the Senate Trumpcare bill that would also have destroyed those protections. In his ad, Heller himself lambastes Rosen for passing “zero bills to improve healthcare” in her less-than-one-term tenure as a minority party member of Paul Ryan’s House of Representatives.

The reason these incumbents are so eager to mislead voters about their records on this particular issue is obvious: A July poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a candidate’s position on pre-existing conditions protections was the top health-care issue for voters, with 63 percent identifying it as at least a “very important factor” in their vote. Even 49 percent of Republicans put the issue in that category of importance. A June NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found health care was the top voting issue for registered voters.