U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst told constituents Monday in Clinton County it was “vitally important” insurance companies provide coverage for Americans with pre-existing health conditions.
The discussion spun off of concerns from a woman at the Clinton Middle School town hall forum, who decried the high costs of health insurance in the United States.
“It is imperative that we find a way to cover those that have pre-existing conditions so that we make sure they are being covered,” said Ernst, Iowa’s junior U.S. senator. “We know that, we have to do that, that’s our responsibility.”
She had a similar message about pre-existing conditions in a KWWL interview the day prior.
Without former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act [ACA], however, it is likely coverage for pre-existing conditions would not be mandatory, something the woman pointed out to Ernst.
As Ernst runs her first reelection campaign this year, she has been sure to voice her support for health insurance guidelines that require coverage for pre-existing conditions, despite her multiple votes in the Senate to repeal the ACA.
“What Obamacare did was provide insurance accessibility, insurance accessibility,” she stressed. “But we know that if we’re not controlling actual health care costs, insurance will continue to get more expensive.”
Ernst was not pressed by the crowd of about 50 constituents on her votes to repeal the ACA. Though they asked tough questions, ranging from health care and trade policy to federal budgets and immigration reform, the group appeared largely supportive of their senator. One woman brought a birthday card for Ernst — she turned 49 Monday — launching the crowd into a recitation of “Happy Birthday.”
Rather than improve the ACA, which allows Americans to purchase government-subsidized health insurance plans in the private marketplace, Republicans repeatedly have worked to torpedo it by shortening the open enrollment period and dramatically reducing outreach on how and when to sign up for coverage.
Ernst said she supported “free market type activities” to make health insurance more affordable, including allowing insurance to be bought and sold across state lines.
“What I would like to see is more of that marketplace, larger (insurance) pools,” she said. “We think that would broaden the pool a lot, but it would still be run by more of a private entity rather than the federal government … We certainly don’t want the government running all of our health care.”
The senator said her Democratic “friends across the aisle” have pushed back on that idea because “they have stated they would like to see more of a single-payer system.”
On that point, Ernst is correct.
Democratic candidates running for president in 2020 all have health care proposals to expand the government’s role in providing insurance coverage. The extent of the government’s role, however, varies from candidate to candidate.
On one end of the spectrum, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would work as president to replace private insurance with Medicare coverage for all Americans.
And on the opposite end, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney’s campaign called Sanders’ proposal a “political disaster” that would “ensure the re-election of Donald Trump.” Delaney has said he wants to achieve universal coverage by automatically enrolling every American in Medicare, while also giving them the option to opt-out and retain private insurance if that was their preference.
So far, three Democrats have lined up to challenge Ernst in the Senate, with a fourth still considering a candidacy.
Theresa Greenfield, who has racked up most of the early state and national endorsements in the primary, issued a statement Monday rebuking Ernst’s claim she supports health care coverage for pre-existing conditions.
“The fact of the matter is that Senator Ernst has voted time and time again to weaken protections for Iowans with pre-existing conditions and helped pave the way for her party’s dangerous federal lawsuit that would end those protections,” said Greenfield. “Senator Ernst is telling Iowans what they want to hear, but it’s clear where her loyalty lies: with DC party leaders like Mitch McConnell, who she votes with 99% of the time — including when she voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions that she claims to support.”
While an overhaul of the nation’s health care system is all but impossible in an election year, Ernst said Monday she was “optimistic” Congress could pass “bipartisan” bills aimed at bringing down the cost of prescription drugs.
“This is probably one of the most bipartisan issues that we will try to tackle in this Congress,” the senator said, mentioning three bills on drug prices she has co-sponsored. “I’m optimistic that we can at least tackle the prescription drug part of it, and if we can whittle that away and find some great relationships, let’s continue working on some of these other issues.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Photo by Julie Fleming