Senate Republicans show their true colors on pre-existing conditions

Only one Republican voted to block Trump's junk insurance plan.

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) attend a news conference on health care September 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) attend a news conference on health care September 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Protecting people with pre-existing conditions isn’t a priority for Republicans — lowering insurance premiums is. Senate Republicans said as much when they voted Wednesday against blocking the Trump administration’s expansion of health plans that can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

In a 50-50 vote, Republicans defeated Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) resolution to overturn the Trump administration’s rule permitting insurers to sell short-term plans for relatively long periods even though they don’t play by the rules. A majority of 51 was required to pass the resolution.

“I heard my colleagues on the other side of the aisle say that they are committed to protecting people with pre-existing conditions,” said Baldwin before the vote.

Now is your chance to prove it. Anyone who says they support coverage for people with pre-existing conditions should support this resolution and overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of these junk insurance plans.” 

All but one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), voted in favor of these bare-bones health plans. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who voted against Obamacare repeal last summer, and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) — perhaps the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election this November, who has been campaigning on protecting people with pre-existing conditions — declined to vote in favor of the resolution.


These health plans skirt health law — meaning, insurance companies don’t have to offer comprehensive plans, can charge people with pre-existing conditions more money, or can deny coverage to these sick people outright — and this is why the plans are cheaper. The Obama administration regulated these plans like stop-gap insurance, permitting people who are in between jobs, for example, to buy the plans for no more than three months at a time. But beginning last week, people are now able to purchase these plans for up to three years, thanks to the Trump administration. And because insurance companies make higher commissions on these plans than Obamacare plans, they have more of an incentive to market them.

Republicans have long promised to bring down the cost of premiums, and because they couldn’t repeal Obamacare, they’ve implemented workarounds like expanding short-term plans through rule-making. When skimpier benefits are coupled with bigger deductibles, you get cheaper health plans. These are the trade-offs.

Wednesday’s vote illustrated GOP priorities in a couple of other ways. Even though the country is in the midst of an drug crisis, Republicans did not vote against the expansion of short-term health plans, which tend not to cover addiction treatment. While the Trump administration says it prioritizes reducing drug prices for consumers, only about 29 percent of these plans cover prescription drugs.

And perhaps most jarring is, less than a week after voting to confirm a man accused of sexual assault to the Supreme Court, Republican senators refused to block plans that discriminate against women and gender minorities because none cover maternity care.