Tom Harkin, a former Iowa senator integral to passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, implored voters to think of the November elections not only as political contests, but as a referendum on health care in the United States.
“While I’ve said recently that Trump and Biden are the names on the ballot, what’s really on the ballot is health care and the future of health care for all Americans,” said Harkin, who retired in 2015 after 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Thursday afternoon during a virtual event with Progress Iowa and Protect Our Care.
When the Affordable Care Act was crafted during the Obama Administration, Harkin served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and as a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, providing him the opportunity to lead hearings drafting the monumental health care law.
“The goal was very simple of the Affordable Care Act: that every American, regardless of income or health status or zip code, would have access to affordable, dependable, quality health care,” Harkin said, noting a “public option” — the ability for working adults to choose a public insurance plan like Medicare or Medicaid, instead of private health insurance — also was a goal for the bill that ultimately was not included.
If elected president, Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president for eight years, says he will work to improve the Affordable Care Act and add a public option.
Republicans have opposed the ACA since its inception. Since 2014 when the GOP gained control of the Senate, they repeatedly have tried to repeal it with no comprehensive replacement. Since taking over Harkin’s seat in 2015, Sen. Joni Ernst has voted multiple times to repeal the Obama-era law.
But on Thursday, Ernst and five of her Republican colleagues voted with Democrats on a failed bill to rebuke the Trump Administration’s Justice Department for its role in a lawsuit to repeal the ACA, and to commit to protecting health insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing health conditions.
Ernst told Iowa Capitol Dispatch no one “should be surprised” she voted in favor of the largely symbolic legislation.
“I continue to say and demonstrate that I support people with pre-existing conditions,” Ernst said.
Theresa Greenfield’s Senate campaign immediately called out Ernst’s hypocrisy after the vote was taken, calling the move a “desperate health care stunt.”
“As she trails in the polls, Sen. Ernst’s desperate stunt today is an admission that her disastrous health care record has her in big trouble with Iowa voters,” said Greenfield spokesperson Izzi Levy. “After helping set this reckless anti-ACA lawsuit in motion with her vote for her party’s 2017 corporate tax giveaway, Ernst has spent more than a year ducking and dodging and refusing to oppose it — despite clear warnings that it could gut pre-existing conditions protections and dismantle Iowa’s Medicaid expansion.”
Republicans’ lawsuit, set to be heard in the Supreme Court days after Election Day, was filed in light of a provision in the 2017 tax bill that virtually eliminated the tax penalty Americans faced if they did not purchase health insurance. Because the tax penalty was reduced to zero, thus voiding the ACA’s individual mandate, the GOP-led lawsuit argues that the entire law is unconstitutional and must be repealed.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Ernst on multiple occasions failed to take a position on the lawsuit, saying this week it was “in the court’s hands.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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