GOP senator compares having a pre-existing condition to crashing your car

But people aren’t cars.

Sen. Ron Johnson being interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd. CREDIT: NBC screenshot
Sen. Ron Johnson being interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd. CREDIT: NBC screenshot

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has criticized the Senate health care bill as being too liberal. He recently unveiled a surprising new argument about Obamacare that compares pre-existing conditions to a car crash.

In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning, host Chuck Todd asked Johnson why Congress hadn’t held a hearing with the head of any insurance company since beginning work on the bill. Johnson did not answer the question, but explained why providing insurance for people with pre-existing conditions is actually a bad thing:

Those are the forgotten men and women in this entire healthcare debate, but we know why those premiums doubled. We’ve done something with our healthcare system that you never even think about doing, for example, with auto insurance, where you’d require auto insurance companies to sell a policy to somebody after they crashed their car. States that have enacted guaranteed issue, which is the guarantee for pre-existing conditions, it crashes their markets. It causes these markets to collapse, it causes premiums to skyrocket.

Johnson was explaining why he is opposed to the Senate’s health care reform bill, which leaves in the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, like cancer survivors or children with chronic illness. (However, the draft does away with the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires everyone to purchase health insurance — just as everyone is required to purchase car insurance, so the car in Johnson’s analogy would already have been insured.)


Johnson is comparing people with pre-existing conditions to bad drivers, or to cars that have been crashed, but not all health conditions are avoidable. People get cancer. Children are born with heart conditions. Two-year-olds contract polio and survive to become Senate Majority Leader.

Johnson went on to propose that people with pre-existing conditions be put into “high-risk pools,” insurance programs for people with pre-existing conditions who can’t be insured otherwise. But while such programs sound good in theory, in practice they rarely work, shifting the burden of care from insurance companies to taxpayers and sometimes leaving sufferers of chronic illness to wait months without care.

Johnson doubled down on his statement in a New York Times op-ed on Monday, calling again for an end to the provision that people with pre-existing conditions be covered.

“A truly moral and compassionate society does not impoverish future generations to bestow benefits in the here and now,” he wrote, suggesting that the provision will lead to debt in the long run. This would deny people health care because of conditions they can’t help.

He also appeared on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Monday morning, and made the same points about high-risk pools and coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Hewitt tweeted that if the Senate votes this week, despite Johnson’s reservations about the bill, “I think he is a yes.”

Annabel Thompson is an intern with ThinkProgress.