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New Senate GOP Bill Eyes Damage Control Over ACA Lawsuit

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Ten Senate Republicans have introduced legislation that would reinstate Affordable Care Act rules that prohibit insurers from turning away people with pre-existing conditions if a new lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the ACA succeeds.

The legislation comes two weeks before oral arguments begin on Sept. 5 in Texas v. United States, a Republican-led lawsuit brought by 20 states, which contends that the 2010 law has been unconstitutional since Congress neutered the tax penalty for those who fail to comply with the ACA individual coverage mandate.

(Related: Trump’s Team Asks Court to Let ACA Underwriting Rules Die in 2019)

In an unusual move, the Trump administration sided with the suing states, in part. The administration has declined to defend the ACA underwriting and pricing provisions in court. That leaves Republicans in a difficult position, just two months before the Nov. 6 congressional election, where health care is a top motivating issue for many voters, and one in which Democrats enjoy an advantage, according to surveys.

An Associated Press-NORC poll released Friday found that Americans disapprove by a margin of 36% to 64% of how Trump is handling the issue of health care.

The move comes as Democrats hammer Republicans in campaign ads for their unpopular efforts last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, possibly further propelling GOP lawmakers to show support for continuing certain protections. A Reuters poll in June and July found 84% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans support “Medicare for All.” Medicare currently is the U.S. health program for the elderly and disabled.

The “Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Act” was announced Friday by Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Dean Heller of Nevada, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham or South Carolina, John Barrasso of Wyoming, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Heller faces a tough re-election in Nevada this fall.

“Nevadans and Americans throughout the country with pre-existing conditions should be protected – period,” Heller said in a statement. “This legislation will make sure that Nevada’s most vulnerable have access to coverage, and I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce it.”

Stewart Boss, a spokesman for Heller’s Democratic opponent Jacky Rosen, responded by calling it a “weak” and “panicked” move from the senator, noting that he has supported his party’s proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Health Policy Specialist Interprets the Amendment

Larry Levitt, the senior vice president for health reform at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the legislation includes loopholes that would make preexisting condition coverage less robust than it is under existing law.

“It prohibits individual premiums from varying based on health, but allows them to vary based on age, gender, occupation, and leisure activities,” Levitt said in an e-mail. “It would allow premium variation based on health in the small business market.

The big loophole is that it would allow pre-existing condition exclusions, which were common in individual market plans before the ACA. An insurer would have to give you insurance if you have a pre-existing condition, but it could exclude any services associated with your pre-existing condition. This would make protections for people with pre-existing conditions a bit of a mirage.”

—With assistance from Anna Edney.

— Read ACA Legal Attack Seen as Gift From Trump to Democratson ThinkAdvisor.

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