Las Vegas Sun

May 23, 2019

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Candidates navigate positions on Obamacare as many voters prioritize reform


Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Donald Trump gestures toward Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., while speaking during a luncheon with GOP leadership in the State Dining Room of the White House, July 19, 2017.

Calls to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act are fewer this election cycle than in the past, with many candidates looking at adjustments to the law and fewer campaigning entirely against it.

In a poll released this week, most Nevada voters said they would hold Republicans “responsible” if ACA premiums increased this summer, and 53 percent favored fixing the law rather than repealing it and starting over.

The poll was commissioned by an Obamacare advocacy group and surveyed 572 registered voters, including some who did not cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election.

About 36 percent of those surveyed said they thought Congress should repeal the law and start from scratch.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump repeatedly referred to the ACA as “terrible legislation” and vowed to repeal it “immediately, fast and quick” upon his election. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have failed to deliver on years of Republican promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Lawmakers did repeal the individual mandate through tax reform, though the requirement is still in effect for this year. Experts say the move may actually increase costs by removing healthier people from the health insurance marketplace.

While some Republicans like Kentucky Congressman Garland Barr have toned down their promises to repeal and replace the law, top GOP candidates in Nevada have largely kept it as part of their platforms.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is up for re-election this fall, had faced criticism for his votes both for and against Obamacare repeal. Danny Tarkanian’s former Senate campaign against Heller took credit for the incumbent’s eventual vote in favor of repeal and replace. Tarkanian has since decided to drop his quest to unseat Heller after Trump asked him to run for the 3rd Congressional District seat in favor of a “unified Republican ticket.”

Both Heller and Tarkanian are running campaigns that still support repeal and replace, as is U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada.

Heller has said he did not want a health care bill that would “pull the rug” out from under hundreds of thousands of Nevada residents. More than 200,000 residents gained health coverage in Nevada after Gov. Brian Sandoval became the first Republican governor to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

Heller ultimately voted for repeal and replace after Trump tied Heller’s vote to his re-election. Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for Protect Our Care, one of the sponsors of the poll, said Tuesday that Heller sided with repeal, despite its unpopularity, to avoid crossing Trump. Woodhouse, a former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Democrat Doug Jones’ Alabama Senate win derailed repeal-and-replace efforts for now, but the GOP is likely to renew its push if Republicans retain control of Congress after the midterm election.

“There is very little evidence that Republicans are walking away from repeal,” Woodhouse said. “They know it’s politically unpopular, but their base, Trump and the Koch brothers still want it, so Republicans are going to keep pursuing it.”

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., is vying for her party’s nomination to challenge Heller in the general election. Her campaign has said there were problems with the ACA that needed to be fixed.

At a recent gubernatorial candidate forum, Democrats Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak and Republican Dan Schwartz all said they’d work to protect the state’s Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, though Schwartz, the state treasurer, stressed the importance of knowing who would pay for it.

Adam Laxalt, who is considered a Republican frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, does not intend to roll back the expansion of Medicaid, said spokeswoman Andy Matthews. Laxalt also supports a work requirement for Medicaid enrollees.

The poll released Tuesday also shows Trump’s approval rating in Nevada inched up to 47 percent from 45 percent in March,. The group polled 720 voters in March.

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