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Health care group backs Democrats with seven-figure ad campaign

Effort boosts freshmen who flipped red districts

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday.(Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday.(Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Democrat-aligned group focused on health care is seeking to give 10 vulnerable House members an early political boost through a new $2 million ad campaign.

Protect Our Care plans to launch a digital ad campaign Wednesday to promote the work by 10 Democratic freshmen on health care issues, touting votes to protect preexisting condition protections.

That theme, which Democrats say was key to them winning the House last fall, is one they hope to extend into the 2020 cycle. Republicans hope to turn the focus instead to presidential candidates sparring over government-run “Medicare for All” proposals.

The group’s effort, partially backed by the Service Employees International Union, will include running ads in districts targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee that will likely be crucial to determining control of the House next year.

Polls show that health care remains a top priority for voters and support for guaranteeing insurance coverage for preexisting conditions is high among members of both parties. Democrats have sought to prove Republicans don’t support those protections to the same extent as their own party.

“When you get into health care, that’s one of the things that everybody understands and, regardless of party, seems to support and want protected,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic strategist and partner at TNR Campaigns. “Most of the candidates on the Democratic side, at least, who won in a lot of these swing districts, it was on health care and particularly on protecting preexisting conditions.”

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“It’s definitely still going to be a major issue, particularly with Trump and the Republicans again looking like they want to campaign on repealing and replacing Obamacare,” he added, referencing comments by House Republican lawmakers at a party retreat in Baltimore last week.

The ad buy is a significant investment at this stage of the election cycle. Leslie Dach, Protect Our Care’s chairman, said the buy is the first foray in a longer campaign the group will run leading up to next year’s election. He declined to say how much the group anticipated spending overall, but said it would continue to focus on the 2010 health care law and efforts to lower prescription drug prices, specifically by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, the focus of legislation House Democrats are expected to unveil soon.

“We thought it was important to educate constituents about members who kept their promises,” Dach told CQ Roll Call. “It’s important to do now in 2019 when the votes are happening and before the airways are overwhelmed with partisan advertising. This is a time to talk about what actually is getting done.”

The House voted in May on a health care bill that, in part, would overturn 2018 Department of Health and Human Services guidance that sought to make it easier for states to allow insurers to offer health plans that don’t meet all of the 2010 law’s requirements, including guaranteeing coverage for patients with preexisting conditions.

The ads will support Democrats Colin Allred of Texas; Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa; Andy Kim of New Jersey; Katie Porter of California; Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens of Michigan; Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico; and Lauren Underwood of Illinois.

Dach said those lawmakers had been leaders on health care issues and sponsored significant bills on the topic.

“Rep. Colin Allred is keeping his promise to protect health care for people with preexisting conditions,” one of the ads says. “Some in Washington want to let insurance companies deny coverage for millions of Americans with cancer, asthma or diabetes. Not Colin Allred. He is standing up to them and standing up for us.”

The ads will reinforce the message that the 10 candidates will likely campaign on this cycle. Meanwhile, Republicans will probably try to tie even Democrats who don’t support a Medicare for All plan to that proposal, which divides the public. 

“House Democrats are desperate to distract from their socialist government-run health care plan that makes private health insurance illegal,” said Michael McAdams, the national press secretary for the NRCC. “Oh, and we look forward to Democrats denouncing these ads since they are opposed to outside spending.”

Health care was a common advertising topic during the 2018 cycle, and the issue has remained on the airwaves this year, if in a different way. Lately, the most common health care ads have been focused on how lawmakers should address surprise medical bills, with groups like Doctor Patient Unity and the Coalition Against Surprise Medical Bills promoting their favored solution to the issue.

The Protect Our Care ads will run on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube through connected devices like smartphones, televisions and computers. 

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