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Republicans hit with pre-existing conditions

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Vulnerable Republican incumbents face an awkward question on health care: "You say in your campaign that you're committed to protecting insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions; what do you make of the fact that the Trump Justice Department is currently arguing in court to strike down the law forcing insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions?"

Why this matters: Polls consistently show health care is a top issue for midterm voters. Republicans are already on their heels on this issue — a reversal from the previous eight years of easy campaigning against Obamacare — and the Justice Department position pits them face-to-face with an inconvenient reality.

Over the weekend, Axios posed that very question to Republicans Mike Coffman (CO-06), John Culberson (TX-07), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), Mimi Walters (CA-45), Pete Stauber (MN-08), Kevin Cramer (challenging for North Dakota Senate), Josh Hawley (challenging for Missouri Senate), Martha McSally (challenging for Arizona Senate), Leah Vukmir (challenging for Wisconsin Senate) and Mike Braun (challenging for Indiana Senate).

Of the Republicans who replied, their responses were strikingly similar: All want to mandate that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions, but only one of them disavowed the Justice Department's position.

Some examples:

  • Josh Hawley, who is one of the Republican attorneys general trying to get the whole Affordable Care Act (including pre-existing conditions protections) thrown out: His press secretary Kelli Ford told Axios that "Josh wants Congress to mandate that insurance companies cover everyone with pre-existing conditions. Senator Claire McCaskill would have you believe that the only way to do it is through Obamacare. That's a lie...Josh is committed to covering those with pre-existing conditions, and we don't have to break the Constitution to do it."
  • Carlos Curbelo: His campaign spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez told Axios that "if Congress must take action to ensure these protections remain intact, he looks forward to joining colleagues from either side of the aisle to do whatever is necessary."

The outlier: The only Republican on that list who said he opposed the Justice Department's position was Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman. His spokesman Tyler Sandberg told Axios "he's opposed to any attempt to get rid of pre-existing condition protections" and pointed out that he voted against the Republican Obamacare repeal bill due to the addition of an amendment weakening pre-existing condition protections.

  • When Sandberg was asked to clarify that his opposition also included the DoJ position, he replied: "Yes."
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