The House on Monday passed a bill to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the first major expansion since its enactment a decade ago.
The legislation, which passed in a largely party-line vote of 234 to 179. Only one Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota voted against the bill while two Republicans joined the Democrats in supporting the bill — Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
The bill would increase the 2010 health law’s subsidies for private health insurance, while reverse Trump administration policies seen as undermining the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats voted on the heels after the Department of Justice filed a legal brief with the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare and declare the entire law unconstitutional last Thursday. The Trump administration has backed the 20 states pushing back against the ACA.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 1425) would expand the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits, pressure states to expand Medicaid programs while increasing federal funds for Medicaid, and cap what any person may pay for coverage premiums at 8.5% of income. It would also let immigrants living in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program get access to subsidized insurance plans.
“Make no mistake, a vote against this bill is to weaken Americans’ health and financial security during a pandemic,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said ahead of the vote. “Access to affordable care is a matter of life and death. That’s so self-evident as we see every day in the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed more than 125,000 Americans, infecting 2.5 million Americans and that has left tens of millions of people without jobs.”
The legislation passed by the House also comes with a measure that would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower drug prices. Republicans say this maneuver would hinder pharmaceutical innovation that’s especially needed in the middle of a pandemic.
“Today’s vote is a messaging vote,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee said. “It’s political. Politics should not control how we write health care policy. Instead, we should be working on bipartisan provisions that can be signed into law.”
He added, “They find the political fear-mongering to be too potent in an election-year weapon. So, we continue this charade.”
Defending the ACA is a key strategy Democrats used in 2018 to win back the House and the party is returning to the same playbook for the 2020 elections as it attempts to win back the White House and Senate.
The White House issued a statement shortly after the vote.
“This bill attempts to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to resuscitate tired, partisan proposals,” the White House wrote, saying the provisions curbing prescription drug costs would cut pharmaceutical company revenues that “would undermine the American innovation the entire globe is depending on to develop vaccines and treatments.”
The bill is expected to die in the GOP-controlled Senate and President Trump has pledged to veto the bill if it gets to the desk.