Share
After Years of Quiet, Democratic Candidates Can’t Stop Talking About Health Care

After Years of Quiet, Democratic Candidates Can’t Stop Talking About Health Care

In June, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri asked voters at a big political dinner to stand up if they had a pre-existing health condition.She’d been hearing from voters at town hall meetings that they were worried about health care. “I just thought of it frankly at the podium,” she said. “I was just betting this…


In June,Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri asked voters at a big political dinner to stand up if they had a pre-existing health condition.

She’d been hearing from voters at town hall meetings that they were worried about health care. “I just thought of it frankly at the podium,” she said. “I was just betting this is not that different from my town halls.”

The room was suddenly filled with standing voters. “Even I was stunned just how few people kept their seats,” she said.

close race for re-election this year. His version — asking coal workers at a Boonville, Ind., rally how manyknew someone with a pre-existing condition — “really moved me,” Mr. Donnelly said. It has become a staple of his campaign events, too.

More than a quarter of working-age adults have a pre-existing health condition, like asthma, diabetes or cancer, that might have locked them out of the insurance market in the years before Obamacare, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Surveys show that far more have a friend or family member with a serious medical problem. Because health problems tend to pile up as people age, the older voters who tend to turn out most reliably in midterm elections experience such worry disproportionately.

“I completely can see why they’re excited to be able to talk about this issue again,” said Mollyann Brodie, a senior vice president at Kaiser, who runs the group’s public opinion polling. The foundation’s most recent survey, released last week, found that pre-existing conditions had become the most important health care concern among voters, ranked the most important campaign issue for many of them over all. “I agree with the strategy, based on our polling and everyone else’s polling. It’s a time when it is going to work.”

It’s not just red-state Democratic senators who are focusing on pre-existing conditions. The issue is coming up in House races across the country. Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ticked off districts —in Arkansas, Washington, New Jersey — where it’s a major campaign theme. In markets with close races, the committee is running its own advertisements on health care.

most common subject of Democratic campaign ads.the vast majority of health care ads were those opposed to the health law.more popular than it has ever been. For the first time, the Affordable Care Act earned the support of a majority of Americans in public polls, a small shift but one that has been durable, even as Congress moved on to a tax overhaul and other issues. Pre-existing condition protections have always been much more popular than the law over all.

The threat of repeal appears to have been particularly galvanizing for Democratic activists, who came out to protest and contact their legislators during the debate.

The second change came more recently, when the Trump administration decided not to defend Obamacare from a lawsuit brought by the Republican attorneys general of 20 states. The lawsuit argues that the entire law should be invalidated as unconstitutional. The Trump administration’s position is that most of the law should remain on the books, but that its protections for people with pre-existing illnesses should be stripped away.

Mr. Hawley is one of the attorneys general who has signed on to the lawsuit, though he argues that pre-existing conditions protections could be preserved without the Affordable Care Act. Patrick Morrisey, the West Virginia attorney general, has also joined the lawsuit and is running for Senate.

Several Democratic candidates and campaign consultants described the lawsuit as a political gift, because it clarified the contrast between the two parties on an emotionally resonant issue.

“What has changed is all the warning lights are on right now,” Mr. Donnelly said.

Read More