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Americans want pre-existing conditions protected; not confident on drug prices

American voters — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — want lawmakers to ensure protections remain in place to prevent insurers from discriminating against patients with pre-existing medical conditions, a new poll showed.

The survey results from the nonpartisan, nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation confirm that the pre-existing conditions issue remains a top concern for the 2018 midterm elections in November.

Those same voters also are not confident the Trump administration's actions to lower drug prices will pan out, Kaiser reported.

The poll's results came on the same day that oral arguments got underway in a lawsuit that is seeking to end the pre-existing condition protections granted under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, along with the full 2010 law, which has survived two Supreme Court challenges.

The suit, brought by the attorneys general in 20 of the most conservative U.S. states, is being fought in a federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas. Plaintiffs are arguing that the pre-existing condition protections are invalid after Congress passed legislation last year to end the individual mandate's tax penalty in January 2019.

Even though the government is the defendant in the case, the Trump administration has opted to side with the plaintiffs rather than defend the law, though it has asked the court not to invalidate the pre-existing condition protections until after this year — a timeline that would fall after the November elections.

"Well that's convenient," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters during a Sept. 5 media briefing.

Murphy said the Texas case was not about the constitutionality of the healthcare law but was more about the Republicans' ongoing political grudge against former President Barack Obama and his signature achievement.

There is no question the Republicans are determined "to get this ultimate ideological trophy," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said. "There is none bigger in terms of what's important."

Supreme Court bound?

Wyden noted the lawsuit comes as Republicans are "hustling a Supreme Court nominee through the Senate," Brett Kavanaugh, who could be the deciding vote if the case reaches the high court.

Asked about whether he would uphold the ACA's pre-existing condition protections, Kavanaugh told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 5 that he could not provide any assurances, given the current hypothetical nature of the case.

The Kaiser poll, however, showed that a majority of Americans, or 75%, said it was "very important" to retain the ACA's pre-existing medical condition protections. About 72% said insurers also should not be permitted to charge sick people more for their healthcare coverage.

Of those who responded to the Kaiser poll, 41% said they were "very worried" that they or a family member would lose healthcare coverage if the Supreme Court and overturns the ACA's pre-existing condition protections.

Additionally, more than half, or 52%, said they were "very worried" they or a family member would end up paying more for coverage if the law's protections are ended.

Efforts to save protections

During a Capitol Hill hearing last month, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma told senators that "if the law changes in some way" because of the Texas case, she would work with Congress to make sure pre-existing condition protections were in place.

Republicans and Democrats have introduced legislation they said would shield Americans with pre-existing conditions from being discriminated against.

In late August, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., led a group of 30 Democratic senators in introducing legislation aimed at blocking the Trump administration's short-term health plans — sometimes called "skimpy plans" or "junk insurance" by opponents — which they said fail to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions.

A group of Republican senators last month also unveiled their own legislation they said would ensure health insurance plans remained available to Americans with pre-existing conditions if the Texas lawsuit prevails. But Kaiser Senior Vice President Larry Levitt said the bill was "something of a mirage," because it would still permit insurers to exclude paying for treatments and services associated with pre-existing conditions.

While President Donald Trump has pressed Republican leaders to try again to repeal the ACA — an effort that failed three times in the Senate in 2017 — Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his chamber's plate was full through the end of the fiscal year and there was no time to make another attempt.

"That's a question I don't have to reach anytime soon and don't have the time to facilitate, even if I were so inclined," he told reporters during his Sept. 5 briefing.

Shaming not working on drug prices

The Kaiser poll also asked Americans about whether Trump would prevail in his efforts to lower drug prices.

Less than half, or 42%, said Trump's strategy of publicly shaming drugmakers and asking them to cut their prices would succeed, while 55% said that approach would not work.

Only 38% said they were confident Trump would deliver on his promise that Americans would pay less for their medicines under his administration.

Kaiser noted Democrats and Republicans were split on Trump's drug pricing plan.

About three-fourths of the Democrats polled, or 74%, said his strategy would fail, while two-thirds of the Republicans surveyed, or 67%, responded that Trump's plan would be effective in lowering drug costs.