House Democrats, looking to put health care back into the debate ahead of the general election, passed their fix to shore up Obamacare.
The bill passed 234-179 Monday afternoon.
“Access to affordable care is a matter of life and death. That’s so self-evident as we see every day in the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed more than 125,000 Americans, infecting 2.5 million Americans and that has left tens of millions of people without jobs,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a floor speech.
The bill aims to expand the Affordable Care Act by lowering insurance premiums, expanding eligibility for premium tax credits and allowing states to form their own health insurance marketplaces.
It would also increase federal funding for Medicaid to encourage other states to expand their programs.
There are also provisions that incorporate some aspects of the Democrats’ marquee drug pricing bill, which passed in December, to lower prescription drug prices for consumers.
Republicans argued the bill would not only exacerbate the troubles of an already dysfunctional program but end up impeding Americans’ ability to get new prescription drugs.
“Can you believe this? In the middle of a global pandemic when we’re trying and rushing to find a cure and a vaccine for COVID-19, [Democrats] are going to bring a bill to the floor to stop drugs from coming to the market,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said on the floor.
In addition to the growing partisan divide over how best to handle the coronavirus pandemic, the Democrats’ new health care push comes amid a drawn-out, heated legal battle that could strip down the ACA.
“What is interesting in this whole debate is to hear the president and members on the other side of the aisle say, oh, they are all for protecting preexisting conditions. Oh, really? Then why are you in the United States Supreme Court to overturn them?” Mrs. Pelosi said.
In 2017 as part of the tax code overhaul, Congress zeroed out the penalty for not having coverage, which Mr. Trump signed. That move, lower courts ruled, resulted in the law being unconstitutional.
A federal appeals court ruled last year that the mandate requiring all Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty runs afoul of the Constitution because it is no longer a tax following President Trump’s decision to zero out the fine.
But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, put off a thornier question — whether other parts of the law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, can stand without the mandate — something the Supreme Court will now have to determine.
The Trump administration has backed the 20 states pushing back against the ACA.
“The entire ACA thus must fall with the individual mandate, though the scope of relief entered in this case should be limited to provisions shown to injure the plaintiffs,” the Department of Justice argued in a legal brief last week.
The bill also highlighted the Democrats’ divergent approaches to health care.
The more liberal progressive wing, championed by Rep. Pramilla Jayapal and Sen. Bernard Sanders, pursued government-run health care system with Medicare for All and got four hearings on the proposal, but ultimately the two top health committees put the more moderate Obamacare bill on the floor for a full party vote.
Later this week, Democrats are set to check off another Election Day priority with their $1.5 trillion infrastructure package.
Neither is likely to get much traction in the GOP-controlled Senate, but both proposals pad Democrats’ legislative resumes headed into their fight to retain control of the House and chip into the Republicans’ hold on the upper chamber.
⦁ Alex Swoyer contributed to this report
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