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Biden campaign readies health care fight in latest attack on Trump

<i>Reuters</i><br/>Former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump

By Arlette Saenz, Tami Luhby and Arit John, CNN

Washington (CNN) — The Biden campaign is seizing on former President Donald Trump’s recent threat to repeal Obamacare, marking their latest effort to sound the alarm on the GOP frontrunner’s policy vision.

The campaign is readying surrogates, messaging pushes and a TV ad aimed at drawing a stark contrast between President Joe Biden’s work to improve health care and costs related to it, and Trump’s approach. And it comes at a time when the Affordable Care Act is seeing a spike in sign ups for 2024 coverage in the initial weeks of open enrollment.

The Biden campaign’s push is the latest step in a strategy to put Trump’s policy proposals front and center as they seek to draw a starker contrast with the GOP frontrunner heading into 2024. Recent polling has shown the former president leading Biden in key battleground states and on the national level. The Biden campaign views the health care fight as fruitful ground as Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare have repeatedly failed, prompting some in the GOP to refrain from campaigning to push for its end.

The effort comes in the days after Trump said Republicans should “never give up” on trying to repeal the landmark Obama-era health reform law, adding that he was “seriously looking at alternatives.” Trump said Obamacare’s cost is “out of control, plus, it’s not good Healthcare,” adding the failure to repeal it was “a low point for the Republican Party.”  The former president’s comments on Truth Social came in response to a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the issue.

The Biden campaign has looked to boost Trump’s comments on social media, and Biden himself weighed in on the health care divide on Monday.

“My predecessor’s – once again, God love him – call for cuts that could rip away health insurance for tens of millions of Americans,” Biden said at a White House event on supply chains. “They just don’t give up. But guess what? We won’t let these things happen.”

For Democrats, being able to run in defense of the Affordable Care Act is a dramatic reversal of fortune from a decade ago. GOP presidential and congressional candidates successfully ran against the legislation for years after its passage. When Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, they called their landslide victory a mandate to dismantle the health care law. By March 2014, Obamacare’s four year anniversary, Republicans had attempted to repeal all or part of the law more than 50 times, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Those efforts were blocked by Democrats.

When Republicans finally had the ability to repeal Obamacare in 2017 under Trump and a GOP Congress, however, they couldn’t produce a plan with enough support to pass. Former Sen. John McCain of Arizona famously doomed his party’s effort to repeal key parts of the health care law with a dramatic thumbs-down vote.

The Trump-era repeal attempt ultimately helped boost the law’s popularity. The number of Americans who said they had a favorable opinion of the law rose above 50% for the first time in mid-2017, according to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A year later, Democrats won back control of the House in 2018 after campaigning in part on their opponents’ efforts to repeal the law.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans said they had a favorable view of the law as of May 2023, according to the most recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Most Republicans are trying to move on.

“I don’t think it is a winner of an issue, and so I don’t understand why [Trump] would have brought it up,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based Republican strategist.

Obamacare is “ingrained in American society,” he said, adding that he doesn’t hear politicians discussing repealing it anymore.

“There are so many other issues to focus on that will motivate Republicans and right leaning independents to the polls,” Marson said. “Obamacare just isn’t one of them.”

Biden’s team seizes on Trump’s comments

On Tuesday, the Biden campaign held a call featuring former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, whose state will start its Medicaid expansion on Friday, to respond to Trump’s threats. North Carolina will be the 40th state to take advantage of an Obamacare provision to broaden Medicaid to more low-income adults after years of resistance by Republican state legislators.

“In 2024, the Affordable Care Act and all of its transformational benefits will be on the ballot,” Pelosi said. “The American people will need to know that if Donald Trump wins next year, he’s coming for your health care. But if Joe Biden wins, your health care will be safe and sound.”

“It was hard for me to believe that Donald Trump is actually bringing up this ACA threat once again, but as Speaker Pelosi says we’ve got to believe him because he tried it before, and almost succeeded,” Cooper added.

Biden’s team plans on running a new health care focused TV ad in Las Vegas – in the key battleground state of Nevada – and national cable later in the week, a campaign official said. The campaign also is seeking to call attention to various health care provisions Biden has worked to improve and protect, including coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The campaign also will lean on state Democratic parties in swing states to host events this week to talk about the effects of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the official said.

Trump “was one vote away from getting it done when he was president – and we should take him at his word that he’ll try to do it again,” said Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa. “Donald Trump’s America is one where millions of people lose their health insurance and seniors and families across the country face exorbitant costs just to stay healthy. Those are the stakes next November.”

It’s not just the campaign looking to build off Trump’s comments. The White House used the moment to slam congressional Republicans over health care, arguing in a memo that they “keep proving that the top objective of MAGAnomics is tax giveaways for rich special interests, even if it means major price hikes on families.”

“Nowhere is the MAGAnomics threat to middle class families’ bottom lines more severe than when it comes to health care,” wrote White House spokesperson Andrew Bates.

Bates also highlighted several of Obamacare’s most popular provisions, including barring insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on people’s pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans up to age 26, banning insurers from levying higher premiums on women compared to men, providing free mammograms, colon cancer screenings and other preventive care and expanding Medicaid to more lower-income Americans.

Biden’s efforts to strengthen the Affordable Care Act

Obamacare is enjoying increased popularity under the Biden administration. Nearly 4.6 million people have signed up for 2024 coverage in the first three weeks of this year’s open enrollment period, which began November 1. That’s an increase of 36% from the same period a year earlier. Plan selections have increased heftily in many red states, including Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio and South Carolina.

Soon after taking office in 2021, Biden moved to bolster Obamacare after years of the Trump administration’s efforts to chip away at the program. In one the most significant moves, the president and congressional Democrats beefed up federal subsidies for Obamacare policies as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act and renewed the more generous assistance as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. The enhanced subsidies – which enable four out of five people to find a plan for less than $10 a month – continue through 2025.

Plus, Biden reopened enrollment to allow the uninsured to gain coverage during the Covid-19 pandemic. His administration also lengthened the annual open enrollment period and poured money into programs to help people sign up for coverage, as well as opened up federal subsidies to more families.

These efforts, along with a congressional Covid-19 pandemic relief provision that barred states from unenrolling residents from Medicaid, has led the nation’s uninsured rate to drop to a record low 7.2% in the second quarter of this year. However, that rate is expected to rise now that the relief measure has expired, and more than 11 million people have lost their Medicaid coverage since the beginning of April, according to a KFF tracker.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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