The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, united Republicans nationwide. In the last election, many GOP candidates promised to dismantle it. But that turned out to be a struggle and Democrats have now taken on health care as their key issue to drive out the vote this midterm. KUNR's Anh Gray has more.
During the 2016 election, a then-presidential candidate Donald Trump led the charge to reverse the health law. He hammered that message at the last presidential debate in October of that year. “And one thing we have to do, repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump said.
Just this week, in an interview with Reuters, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called his party’s failure to repeal the ACA a disappointment. He also said that depending on the midterm’s outcome, the GOP could try a repeal again.
“For the past few elections, health care has really been a Republican issue, mainly in their message of repeal and replace,” Political Science Professor Precious Hall of Truckee Meadows Community College explained.
“This election, it’s actually the top rated issue for Democrats, because of what’s been happening in the past couple of years," Hall said.
But some conservatives like Governor Brian Sandoval embraced the ACA. He was the first Republican state leader to adopt the Medicaid expansion back in 2012. As a result of the ACA, more than 300,000 Nevadans became insured, including many rural residents. (According to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 220,000 individuals insured as a result of the state’s Medicaid expansion. An additional 90,000 more are enrolled with the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, which was established under the ACA to provide Nevadans with federally subsidized insurance.)
To rally its base, the Democratic Party of Washoe County has been canvassing neighborhoods and holding phone banks. On a weeknight at its headquarters in Reno, more than a dozen volunteers are making calls. Laura Gully and two of her daughters are volunteering. They’re each going through lists of registered Democrats, hoping someone picks up. For Gully, health care is a big concern because of her work at a call center for a Reno-based hospital.
“What I work in is getting the people scheduled for all their various appointments and we work a lot with authorizations with the insurance companies,” Gully said, “and we’re just seeing an increase over and over again of more things being denied, harder to get authorizations.”
One of her daughters, Amanda Gully, says health care is also an issue she worries about.
“I have pre-existing conditions, I have ADHD, which is already hard to get covered as an adult and so having it as a preexisting condition, on top of that, it’s just difficult,” Amanda said. “Plus, my medication is really expensive.”
Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a poll which found that 75 percent of respondents across both parties say protecting pre-existing conditions is “very important” to them.
Some Americans worry that a current GOP-led lawsuit involving 20 states threatens to undo the ACA and the protections in place.
Nationally, Democrats are using this issue to gain a majority in the House and Senate. In Nevada, the race between incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is neck-and-neck.
Sarah Abel is a spokesperson with the Nevada State Democratic Party.
“The control of the Senate runs through this state; if we are able to flip that seat and Jacky Rosen is elected to the Senate, the control of the Senate can shift,” Abel said, “and that way, they have a protection in place that will stop Republicans from repealing the Affordable Care Act again.”
The Democratic party is attacking Heller's track record on health care as inconsistent. His seat is considered especially vulnerable since he’s the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Democrats have a lead of nearly 70,000 registered voters over Republicans statewide, and they want to wrest back control of Congress to stop conservatives from continuing to chip away at the ACA.
Last December, Congress passed the GOP-led tax reform bill that essentially eliminated the individual mandate, the health law’s tax penalty for the uninsured.
“We are talking to voters everywhere, in the north, in the south, and in the rurals,” Abel said, “and we want to make sure that they know what’s on the line, and what we hear a lot at the door is from voters, is that they’re concerned about health care.”
With so much at stake, Democrats and Republicans are both campaigning hard to ensure their health care message is what resonates with voters at the polls.