WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump has again bound himself and congressional Republicans to getting rid of Obamacare but now the move comes as voters are getting daily reminders about their own healthcare vulnerabilities.
A legal brief his administration filed Thursday on the Affordable Care Act and its protections for patients with preexisting conditions underscores how big a bet his campaign is making on energizing his most enthusiastic supporters rather than following the traditional strategy of reaching out to wavering voters as the election nears.
Democrats rode the healthcare issue in the 2018 midterm elections to retake control of the House and they're planning to do it again in November, when the White House and both chambers of Congress will be on the line. They seized on the administration's filing with the Supreme Court supporting a suit to invalidate the law and tied it to the coronavirus pandemic that's led to more than 120,000 deaths in the U.S.
"If Donald Trump won't end his senseless crusade against health coverage, I look forward to ending it for him," Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in a speech Thursday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The coronavirus pandemic and the wave of job losses it has produced has only focused more attention on the fragility of employer-provided insurance and the importance of healthcare access. Through May, nearly half a million people enrolled in Obamacare after the end of the annual sign-up period because they lost their previous insurance, a 46% jump from last year.
The Trump administration filed its brief with the Supreme Court -- brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general -- just as surging coronavirus cases in Sunbelt states raised new fears the pandemic is again getting out of control. The court is set to hear arguments on the case around the time of the November election, meaning the gambit will be capturing the nation's attention as voters prepare to cast ballots.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that because the Republican-controlled Congress eliminated Obamacare's tax penalty for being uninsured, other provisions of the law -- including protection for preexisting conditions -- "must also fall."
Polls consistently show healthcare at or near the top of issues important to voters, but Trump has gotten consistently low marks from the public for his handling of it. In a June 13-16 Fox News poll, 39% said they approved of the way the president handles healthcare, in line with answers to the question in the poll over the past three years and with other recent polls.
Yet, like many issues, there is a clear partisan divide. Three-quarters of Republicans still oppose Obamacare even as swing voters--those who haven't already decided their presidential vote--back the insurance plan 58% to 34%, according to a May poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Affordable Care Act has become far more popular than it was when it first passed a decade ago, and Republicans have yet to propose an alternative that would ensure the same protections for people with preexisting conditions and replace the ACA's marketplaces, subsidies and Medicaid expansion without kicking millions of people off of insurance.