By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The federal guarantee of health-insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is too politically popular to be eliminated, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said on Tuesday.
During a conference call with constituents, Johnson said he wishes he and his fellow Republicans had succeeded in repealing and replacing the entire Affordable Care Act when they had the chance.
“I thought that was a pretty spectacular failure on the part of Washington, D.C.,” said Johnson, who has long opposed the law enacted by former President Barack Obama.
Johnson’s comments came less than a week after a federal judge in Texas ruled that the federal health-care law is unconstitutional. If upheld, the ruling would repeal the entire law known as “Obamacare,” including the popular guarantee of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Health care, in particular the guarantee for pre-existing conditions, was a subject of much contention in midterm elections throughout the country, including those in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker has also long opposed the law and allowed Wisconsin to join a multi-state lawsuit seeking to repeal it. But as he ran for re-election this year and polls showed that the coverage guarantee was popular, he called on the Legislature to pass a state law guaranteeing coverage in case the federal protection went away. Although the Assembly passed such a bill, it died in the Senate.
Walker’s successor, Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers, supports the federal law and wants Wisconsin to withdraw from the lawsuit. But Republicans passed a bill this month during a lame-duck legislative session that will require the Legislature to sign off on any attempt to leave the lawsuit, handcuffing Evers’ ability to fulfill his campaign promise.
Both Johnson and Walker support alternatives to the guarantee for pre-existing conditions. One possibility would be to make use of a high-risk insurance pool of the type Wisconsin used to have before the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Johnson said on Tuesday that he didn’t know of a single Republican who wanted to get rid of a coverage guarantee for people with pre-existing conditions, adding that it’s so popular, “no one wants to touch it with a 10-foot pole.” He said that sort of coverage can be provided in a way that wouldn’t push premiums up, but there has to be the political will to make such a change.
“We took a very poor stab at it in our last Congress,” he said.
In 2017, the U.S. Senate failed to approve a bill to repeal the law under unified opposition from Democrats, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin.