Meanwhile, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s September tracking poll, three in four independents, and even 58 percent of Republicans, said it was “very important” for insurance companies to guarantee coverage to people with preexisting conditions. Seventy-one percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicans said it was “very important” that sick people not be hit with higher premiums than other customers. With respect to the lawsuit from Republican attorneys general, the Kaiser poll says, “Three-fourths of the public say it is ‘very important’ to them that the provision that prohibits health insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history remains law.” Kaiser reports that roughly 52 million Americans under age 65 have preexisting health conditions—and that health care ranks No. 1 as the most important issue for midterm voters.
Read: The true cost of cheap health insurance
All of which explains why Democratic candidates and allied groups have been flooding the zone with health-care ads—nearly 56,000 from January to July, according to trackers at the Wesleyan Media Project. From September 18 to October 15, in House and Senate races, almost 55 percent of all Democratic ads featured health care.
It’s a stark reversal of fortune: It was only eight years ago, in the 2010 midterms, that Republican candidates were hammering 24/7 about the alleged evils of the newly enacted Obamacare, and Democratic incumbents on Capitol Hill were either fleeing the issue or taking abuse at tempestuous town halls.
Now it’s the GOP playing defense on health care. And Trump’s sporadic attempts to give the Republicans some cover—at an early October rally he proclaimed, “Preexisting conditions are safe, okay? Just remember that”—have been undercut by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent remark that if Republicans retain control of the upper chamber, they might take another run at repealing Obamacare. Trump, at least, seems attuned to the American majority’s mood; he also told rally-goers that he would “always fight for and always protect patients with preexisting conditions.” McConnell is not.
In what may be a last-ditch attempt to change the health-care narrative, Trump and Republican candidates have focused on the enthusiasm, in some Democratic circles, for a national health-care program that’s loosely described as Medicare for All. Politically, the GOP views it as an opportunity to paint its proponents as “socialists” and to compel all Democratic candidates to either endorse or disavow the idea. Trump attacked it recently in a guest column for USA Today that required extensive fact-checking from the press.
But that Republican strategy also appears to be problematic. Recent polls have shown that a substantial majority of Americans—70 percent—support the concept of Medicare for All. Nobody knows how a national plan would work in practice: Single payer? Public option? A major compromise, such as lowering the Medicare-eligibility age? But for now, Republicans appear to be betting against a broadly popular aspiration.
The president famously lamented last year that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Trump was referring at the time to the GOP’s frustrations with policy. But in this election season, given the party’s mixed messages and struggles on the trail, he could surely say that about the politics, too.