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As Dems Campaign on Pre-Existing Conditions, 10 Republicans Move In

Tillis touts ‘common-sense’ solution, Murray calls it a ‘gimmick’

As the 2010 health care law weathers its latest legal challenge, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., has introduced a bill aimed at pre-existing conditions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
As the 2010 health care law weathers its latest legal challenge, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., has introduced a bill aimed at pre-existing conditions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ten Senate Republicans on Friday released a bill meant to guarantee the protections for patients with pre-existing conditions included in the 2010 health care law.

The measure is a response to the latest legal challenge to the health law, which seeks to invalidate the law after Congress effectively ended the so-called “individual mandate” that requires most Americans to maintain health insurance coverage or pay a fine.

While the group of conservative states that brought the lawsuit are seeking to overturn the constitutionality of the law in its entirety, the Department of Justice declined to defend certain provisions of the law — ones that prohibit discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Oral arguments in the case are set to begin on Sept. 5.

The measure would amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, to guarantee that individuals with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage or charged more for it in the individual or group health insurance markets if the court agrees with the states’ or DOJ’s arguments.

“There are strong opinions on both sides when it comes to how we should overhaul our nation’s broken health care system, but the one thing we can all agree on is that we should protect health care for Americans with pre-existing conditions and ensure they have access to good coverage,” Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said in a statement Friday. “This legislation is a common-sense solution that guarantees Americans with pre-existing conditions will have health care coverage, regardless of how our judicial system rules on the future of Obamacare.”

The legislation may not go as far as the Democrats’ health care law does in protecting patients with pre-existing conditions, though. Under the measure, insurers would still be able to refuse to cover certain services or prescription drugs for patients with pre-existing conditions, said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president for health reform at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

“These exclusions were typical in pre-ACA individual market plans, and also in current short-term plans,” Levitt said in an email.

Democrats are prioritizing the issue of health care, specifically the court case and pre-existing conditions coverage, on the campaign trail. The provisions that bar insurance providers from denying coverage or charging more for coverage if a patient has a pre-existing condition have long been popular parts of the health care law.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington criticized the GOP proposal on Friday, calling the measure a “gimmick” that wouldn’t prevent insurers from discriminating against patients because of their gender or age.

“If Republicans are serious about protecting health care for millions of families, they should join Democrats to defend patient protections already in place and work with us on solutions that actually drive down costs for families and prevent health care discrimination based on age, gender, or pre-existing conditions,” Murray said in a statement.

The Republican bill was introduced on Thursday by Tillis, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Dean Heller of Nevada, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Barrasso of Wyoming, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

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