Pelosi Unveils Bill to Bolster Obamacare — and Dems’ Election Chances
Health Care

Pelosi Unveils Bill to Bolster Obamacare — and Dems’ Election Chances

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders unveiled legislation Wednesday aimed at making Affordable Care Act insurance plans cheaper to buy and encouraging states to expand their Medicaid programs.

“The legislation (H.R. 1425) is largely a repeat of bills the Democratic-controlled House already passed, mostly largely along party lines,” Bloomberg Law’s Alex Ruoff writes.

The package, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, would expand tax credits for plans sold through the Obamacare exchanges and allow more middle-income families to qualify for subsidies. It would cap enrollee premium costs for “silver” plans at 8.5% of income, instead of nearly 10% under the current law. It also seeks to entice the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid to reconsider by having the federal government cover 100% of the costs for the first three years, mirroring the original expansion plan.

The bill would also allow the government to negotiate the price of some prescription drugs, a measure that would offset costs of expanding coverage.

The legislation would reduce the number of uninsured extend health coverage to 4 million more Americans, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) told reporters, citing Congressional Budget Office estimates. CBO also found that the package would reduce deficits over 10 years by $15 billion.

The House will vote on the bill on Monday, Pelosi said.

Election-year messaging: The bill stands no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate, but gives Democrats another way to signal to election-year voters that they are prioritizing health care — and to draw a contrast with the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare.

“We have become the party of health care — this is increasingly our brand, this is what we have fought for,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), chairwoman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, told The New York Times earlier this week. “They are becoming the party of drinking bleach.”

At the same time, as Politico’s Susannah Luthi and Alica Miranda Ollstein note, the latest plan “is less ambitious than the platform put forward by Joe Biden and doesn't include a public insurance option that could compete with private plans. It also would not expand eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid.” House Democrats, they report, privately acknowledge that the bill was largely crafted with campaign messaging in mind.

Trump has sought to lower health care and prescription drug costs through a series of executive actions, many focused on encouraging competition by increasing price transparency. But many of Trump’s efforts to lower costs have met with legal or other setbacks, and the administration has yet to release a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare.

The White House is expected to present legal briefs on Thursday asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the 2010 health care law.

“Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear the brief from the Trump administration as to taking down the Affordable Care Act, right in the heart of the time of the pandemic,” Pelosi said. “It was wrong any time. Now it’s beyond stupid, beyond stupid.”