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What Was That U.S. Senate Vote on “Junk Insurance” Really About, and How Does It Play Into the Politics of Health Care in 2018?

Last week, we caught up with Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) here in Southern Nevada after Governor Brian Sandoval (R) cut an ad for Senator Dean Heller that omitted one of Sandoval’s (and President Barack Obama’s) biggest accomplishments. Today, Heller cast a key vote to undermine such an accomplishment, even as it’s become such a central issue in this year’s campaign.

So what was today’s health care vote about, and what might it mean for health insurance going forward?

Remember all the talk of “junk insurance”? That’s what was decided by today’s Senate vote.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Over the summer, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) introduced a bill to stop President Donald Trump’s new rule that expands access to short-term, limited-coverage health insurance plans (or “junk insurance”) from going into effect. While these “junk insurance” plans tend to be cheaper than the insurance plans offered on the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) exchanges, they often don’t offer essential health benefits (like prescription drug coverage and preventive care) and don’t cover pre-existing conditions. Essentially, they’re like those cheap car insurance plans that look like a good deal until a driver is in need of help (and can’t obtain any under one of those cheap plans).

At Touro Health Center in Henderson last Wednesday, Rep. Jacky Rosen drew a contrast between her support for keeping the ACA’s patient protections wholly intact and Senator Dean Heller’s support for Trump’s rule to allow insurers to offer “junk” plans that exclude such protections. According to Rosen, “Those short-term plans are a farce [and] a charade being played on regular Americans. Those short-term plans are junk plans.”

Earlier today, Heller voted with 49 other Republicans against Baldwin’s bill while Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and all other Democrats to overturn Trump’s “junk insurance” rule. As a result, Trump won’t have to worry about following through on his veto threat and his new rule will allow more of these “junk insurance” plans to enter the market.

How does this vote fit into all the rhetoric on the campaign trail?

Photo by Andrew Davey

Throughout this year, Heller has claimed that he wants to maintain protections for pre-existing conditions. He even introduced a bill he claimed would do so, even though experts have pointed out that the bill doesn’t actually offer the same protections for patients with pre-existing conditions that the ACA does. And even though the White House and Senate Republican leaders are framing the new rule as “expanding access to affordable health insurance”, they don’t talk about how insurers who offer these plans are allowed to charge patients higher rates if they have pre-existing conditions, deny coverage outright to such patients, and offer fewer benefits to those they do agree to cover.

So while today’s Senate vote means there will be no change to the White House’s executive actions on health care, Republicans (including Heller) did just give Democrats (such as Rosen) a roll call vote to point out next time anyone asks about health care and pre-existing conditions. In essence, this confirms that no health care policy will probably change in the next month, but the politics of health care is once again front and center in the final days of this election year.

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