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Senate Democrats fail to bar Trump's short-term, bare-bones health plans

Democrats won support from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine),

Democrats won support from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), seen Sept. 26, in a vote Wednesday to overturn President Trump's rule allowing basic health plans that don't meet Affordable Care Act requirements, but they still lost in a tie. Credit: Getty Images North America/Drew Angerer

WASHINGTON — With an eye on the midterm elections, Senate Democrats Wednesday forced a vote on a measure to overturn President Donald Trump’s rule permitting short-term health insurance plans that don’t meet Affordable Care Act requirements — but they lost in a tie.

Democrats won support from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who just days ago cast the decisive vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But the health insurance resolution fell short by one vote in a 50-50 tie in a chamber where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority.

Democrats didn’t expect to succeed in the vote. But they aimed to publicize an issue they believe will drive voters to support their candidates in the Nov. 6 election as the party seeks to win control of the House or Senate.

“For all the noise of the 24-hour news cycles, the president's tweets, the latest palace intrigues in Washington, there is one issue above any other that is going to define the results in the Nov. 6 election, and that is health care,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“Republicans voted to let insurance companies offer skimpy junk insurance plans that don’t cover essential health benefits, allowing them to nickel and dime patients out of medical care that the patients deserve while reaping egregious profits for themselves,” Schumer said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) painted a different picture, warning that if Democrats win control of Congress, they will bring back the “paternalism of Washington” and limit Americans' choices of health plans.

“They wanted to strip away the option for consumers to buy short-term policies to fill the gap in their other coverage, and in the process, according to the Urban Institute, deny 1.7 million to buy coverage that they actually wanted and that they can afford,” Cornyn said.

Collins defended her "yes" vote, saying the short-term plans “do not provide protections for enrollees who suffer from pre-existing conditions.”

But she said legislation is needed to address a key problem.

“The underlying flaw in the Affordable Care Act is that it does not provide affordable coverage,” she said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) led the effort to get the 30 signatures needed to bypass the committee process and bring to the floor a vote for a resolution to roll back the Trump rule, which was finalized in August and would allow the cheaper and less comprehensive health plans.

Trump issued a veto threat Tuesday night and had an op-ed published in USA Today.

Democrats quickly sent out a “corrected” version of the op-ed, marked up in red ink with fact checks by The Washington Post and The Associated Press.

A review of more than 600 short-term health plans by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues, found that none of them covered maternity care, 71 percent didn’t cover prescription drugs, and 68 percent did not cover substance abuse care.

New York is one of seven states that do not allow the short-term health plans.

Researchers who wrote the Urban Institute report that Cornyn cited also said the Trump rule would result in an increase of 2.6 million people opting for insurance that doesn’t meet the ACA’s essential coverage, bringing the total to 4.3 million people by 2019. That would drive up premium costs for the more comprehensive plans by 18 percent, the report said.

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