- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sen. Joe Manchin III says his office has been flooded with flood with stories from West Virginia residents begging him to preserve Obamacare, saying they’ll lose medical coverage and could face bankruptcy if core parts of the law are ended.

The Democrat, a top target for Republicans in this year’s campaign, points to Kim Kramer of Parkersburg, who fears a “medical tsunami” of bills if she cannot insure her adult son with Down syndrome, and a Bruceton Mills resident who said her daughter has lupus and won’t get care unless the government forces insurers to cover her.

Mr. Manchin is counting on those kinds of residents to help him to re-election, saying his race is ground zero for Obamacare’s future.

That’s because his opponent is West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who won the GOP nomination to face Mr. Manchin.

Mr. Morrisey is one of a cadre of GOP attorneys general leading a lawsuit that says much of Obamacare is illegal, now that Congress has zeroed out the 2010 law’s “individual mandate” penalty for lacking insurance.

“Pat Morrisey has a lot to answer for. We have many people calling our campaign office because they are deeply concerned that Pat is selling out West Virginians to insurance companies,” said Manchin campaign spokesman Grant Herring.

Republican contenders counter that Democrats are misreading the point of the lawsuit and should tread warily themselves, citing rising premiums under the Affordable Care Act’s framework.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, another plaintiff in the Obamacare suit and Republicans’ hope in November to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, said the point isn’t to kneecap the law, but to create the conditions to replace it with something better.

“Insurance companies should be required to cover folks with pre-existing conditions and also to allow kids to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26. And insurance companies should be forced to do a lot more — like actually compete for families’ business, instead of getting these sweetheart deals from big government,” Mr. Hawley said.

“The collusion plan known as Obamacare is a failure, and Sen. McCaskill owns it,” he said. “It’s time Sen. McCaskill did her job and actually passed reforms to bring down the cost of insurance and put families back in control of their health decisions.”

Still, the legal battle is the most serious threat to Obamacare at this point, after congressional Republicans failed to fulfill their campaign promise of a broad repeal.

The Trump Justice Department is siding with the Republican attorneys general. It told a federal judge this month that Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions and price caps for sicker customers must fall, since the individual mandate is gone.

The crux of their argument is that since Congress axed penalties tied to the mandate, it is longer using the taxing powers that Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. used to uphold President Obama’s program six years ago.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican seeking re-election this year, told Vox that he doesn’t see a problem with the administration’s decision not to oppose the states’ argument.

“I think that is a reasonable position for the Justice Department to take, and I think the consequence if the court agrees with the state of Texas’s lawsuit will be that consumers will have more choices, more competition, more options, more individual freedom, and lower premiums,” he told the news outlet. “That’s a win for health care consumers across the country.”

Trump officials say they support the goals of Obamacare as a policy but can’t defend the legality of the law.

Mr. Obama’s law is gaining in popularity, however, buoying Democrats who think they can play offense on health care after years of Obamacare-driven defeats.

Democrats are turning the lawsuit into a litmus test for GOP challengers — either you support popular protections baked into Obamacare or you don’t.

“Just. That. Simple,” Ms. McCaskill tweeted.

Analysts say the politics may not be so simple, however.

One strategy for Democrats is to defend the principle of people with preexisting conditions getting inexpensive coverage while not tethering themselves explicitly to the 2010 law.

“Health care does poll as one of the important issues. You can’t rule out its importance, especially if large numbers of folks will lose a significant portion of their care,” said G. Terry Madonna, a politics professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. “Democrats running in red states have to proceed with caution, but it’s important for them to talk more about those whose healthcare will be affected and its impact, and to avoid the ACA debate overall.”

The Morrisey campaign is betting that Mr. Manchin’s attempts to leverage health care will backfire, citing his opposition to repeal plans championed by President Trump. In the 2016 race, the president won West Virginia by more than 40 percentage points.

“This November, voters will have a choice between Patrick Morrisey, who stands with President Trump to improve health care for all Americans, or Joe Manchin, who sides with Obama and Hillary and their failed big government policies which have hiked premiums for West Virginia families,” said Morrisey spokesman Nathan Brand.

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