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PA House Dems Attempt To Force A Vote On Package Of Health Care Bills

Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania state House Democrats say they’re trying to “force a vote” on a package of bills meant to serve as a backstop should the Affordable Care Act be repealed nationwide.

Democrats last week filed discharge resolutions for four bills currently before the House Insurance Committee. Three were referred to the committee last February, while one was referred last March. A discharge resolution allows a bill to be brought forth for a vote in the entire chamber without first being voted on in committee.

Republican Tina Pickett of Bradford County chairs the committee; Pickett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bills in question would: require insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions; require coverage for “essential health benefits” such as maternity care, emergency services and substance use disorders; end lifetime limits on coverage; and allow parents to keep adult children on their insurance policies until age 26.

State Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill is the prime sponsor of the bill to end lifetime limits on coverage. He said that Republicans in Harrisburg “are in lockstep” with Republicans in Washington, “on a mission to basically bring down the Affordable Care Act.”

President Trump has repeatedly pledged to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, though an attempt to do so in 2017 failed to get enough votes. Still, the Trump administration has been successful at chipping away at Obamacare, eliminating the individual tax penalty for not having insurance and ending subsidies to insurance companies that participate in the online health care exchanges.

There are currently three bills in Congress that would repeal the ACA wholesale. A federal appeals court ruled last month that the portion of the law requiring individuals to obtain insurance is unconstitutional. That case is expected to end up before the Supreme Court; if successful, it could deal a fatal blow to President Obama’s landmark achievement.

House Republican Caucus spokesperson Mike Straub said lawmakers have already addressed concerns about the ACA by supporting H.B. 3, which created Pennsylvania’s state health insurance exchange and a reinsurance program. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law last summer.

“The bills in question work in hypothetical situations, addressing situations ‘if’ the affordable care act is struck down,” Straub wrote in an e-mailed statement. “Our focus remains on legislation that will result in definite impacts, and not address what some members see as only possible problems that we are not currently faced with addressing.”

Straub said that Democrats should work through traditional legislative means and not through “rarely used” techniques such as discharge resolutions.

Frankel acknowledged that Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai is unlikely to bring the four bills up for a vote; discharge petitions are often just as much about politics as they are about procedure.

“If these discharge resolutions help to articulate the need to address these issues and put pressure on Republican leadership … to bring these bills to a vote, I think it’s an effective political tool and a legitimate one to use,” Frankel said.