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Editorial cartoon (10/28/2018)

Recently, Republicans have started campaigning on protecting health care coverage for pre-existing conditions. Gov. Walker in his latest commercial states, “In Wisconsin, pre-existing conditions are covered. And as long as I’m governor, they always will be.”

There is no nice way to say this, but Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are lying. And the truth shows in their consistent, deliberate actions to undermine pre-existing condition protections over the past eight years.

The Affordable Care Act prevented insurers from refusing to cover people or charging them more if they have pre-existing conditions. Since its passage in 2010, Republicans both in Washington and Wisconsin have done everything in their power to tear it down. Congressional Republicans voted more than 70 times between 2011 and 2017 to repeal health care reform, culminating in a failed effort to "repeal and replace" in 2017 in spite of a public groundswell against their efforts. Even after failing, Republican efforts to sabotage it continue to this day.

During the repeal efforts by Republicans in Washington, Wisconsin Democrats worked hard to ensure that health care consumer protections (including coverage of pre-existing conditions, essential benefits and prohibitions on annual and lifetime limits) would remain codified in state law should the Republicans succeed. A bill authored by Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee), AB 365 on lifetime limits, was brought to the Assembly floor on June 21, 2017. Republicans introduced an amendment that hastily swapped out the Democratic bill for a Republican bill. This Republican amendment lifted language directly from the failed federal repeal bill.

Here’s where you should start paying close attention: Although Republicans claimed their legislation would protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, the actual language of their proposal contained a big exception. If an individual had a lapse in coverage for 63 days or longer in a calendar year, insurance companies COULD charge people more if they had a pre-existing condition. In short, their plan to maintain coverage for pre-existing conditions created a huge, and very intentional, loophole. When Wisconsin Republicans had the opportunity to vote for a clean bill on pre-existing conditions, they all voted no. Every single one of them.

During the federal debate over the proposed repeal bill, numerous fact-checkers concluded that this Republican bill was not sufficient to protect those with pre-existing conditions. It is, in fact, the reason congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal the health care reform bill ultimately failed. One health care expert characterized this bait-and-switch as “trying to replace a dam in a river with a couple of rocks.” Importantly, this is the exact same language Gov. Walker said he was “willing to look into” at the time the repeal bill was originally being debated. He was forced to quickly backtrack after widespread outrage.

The entire debate comes down to this:

The Affordable Care Act covered those with pre-existing conditions. Period. Insurers could not consider breaks in coverage or any other situation when setting rates. No exceptions. The Republican plan would leave people struggling to afford expensive premiums if anything, such as loss of a job, led to a gap in coverage.

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When he left Wisconsin to run for president in 2015, he pledged that “on the first day of his presidency, he would send a bill to Congress to repeal Obamacare in its entirety.” In February 2018, the Walker administration joined the lawsuit to repeal health care reform, pre-existing conditions and all. And the Republican proposal Gov. Walker said he would sign falls miserably short of the protections Wisconsin families need.

Wisconsin Republicans have so little respect for voters that after years of fighting tooth and nail to repeal health care protections, they are lying directly to the very people they were elected to represent.

On Nov. 6 the commercials will end, but the leaders we elect will continue making critical decisions for our state. It is important that Wisconsin citizens understand the consequences of these decisions. One of the most important differences is this: Republicans will not cover those with pre-existing conditions, Democrats will.

Gordon Hintz is the Democratic leader in the Wisconsin Assembly.

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