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Where Pete Sessions And Colin Allred Stand On Health Care

Sessions: J. Scott Applewhite, AP; Allred: Chris Connelly, KERA News
Left: U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, answers questions from reporters on Capitol Hill in June 2018. Right: Democratic challenger Colin Allred speaks at a debate in Dallas ahead of the runoff elections in May 2018.

In North Texas’ most heated congressional race, health care has become the dominant issue. Longtime Republican Rep. Pete Sessions is facing his toughest political challenge in years from Democrat and civil rights lawyer Colin Allred for his North Dallas seat. And the two candidates and their supporters are spending millions of dollars on ads to paint the other guy as a bad choice.

So where do the two stand?

What Colin Allred is proposing:

Allred wants more government involvement in the health care system as a means of lowering the costs of health care and insurance. He says there are two things that’ll help make health care accessible to everyone. First, he wants Medicare, which buys about a third of all prescriptions sold in America, to be able to negotiate lower drug prices like Medicaid and Tricare are able to.

Allred also wants a so-called Medicare buy-in, which would allow people who are under 65 to buy health coverage from the government-run health care program as an alternative to buying a plan from a private insurer.

“Hopefully, it will drive a virtuous cycle of lowering costs for all of us,” he said. “Because when there’s competition in any market, it helps the consumer, and we need to increase competition in the health care market.”

This is different than the Medicare-for-all model proposed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or single-payer systems that some Democrats have proposed. It’s akin to the public option that was intended as part of the Affordable Care Act, but was abandoned before the law was passed under pressure from Republicans.

What Pete Sessions is proposing:

Pete Sessions has introduced his own health care bill, which he calls "The World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan." (That’s actually the name of the bill.)

It is not a full Obamacare repeal, though it drops some requirements in the health law and is intended to add more, lower-cost health insurance options for consumers without employer-based insurance buying health care, which is the same pool of people who are in the marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act. Sessions says it doesn’t affect people who get covered by their employer.

There are two main proposals in the Sessions bill: One is to offer a tax credit for consumers to use to buy health coverage, and the other is to allow states to waive some of the essential health benefits that Obamacare requires all insurance plans to cover. Sessions says that states could allow older folks to buy a lower-cost plan that doesn’t cover pregnancies, or allow less expensive coverage that doesn’t include addiction treatment.

“Just like owning a car,” Sessions says, “if you have a car, and you want to get that car covered, you have your options on what the coverage ought to be.”

Sessions says the one required health benefit that wouldn’t be optional is a ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

Exactly how likely Sessions is to see his plan enacted is unclear. The proposal has been around for a couple of years and hasn’t been voted on by Sessions’ House colleagues. And when Republicans tried to repeal and replace Obamacare last year, they went with a different plan (though their preferred plan was broadly similar to Sessions’ proposal). If Republicans keep the House and try again to reform health care, Sessions’ plan is one of several Republican proposals on the table.

What’s all this talk about pre-existing conditions?

Starting in 2011, when Republicans won control of the House, they spent years voting to repeal Obamacare, and Pete Sessions voted with them on each repeal proposal. That meant they were voting to repeal the law that protects people with pre-existing conditions.

Colin Allred has attacked Sessions, stating that Sessions voted to end protections for people with pre-existing conditions. That’s accurate, though one could say that those votes were symbolic while President Obama was still in the White House.

But last year, with President Trump in office and Republicans had the strength in House and Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare, Sessions also voted for a bill that analysts say would have weakened, but not eliminated, protections for people with pre-existing conditions. That proposal failed to pass the Senate, leaving Obamacare intact.

Since then, Sessions has authored a House resolution that was co-signed by several vulnerable Republican House members, saying that any law that any replacement plan must include the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Democrats panned the resolution as an election-year ploy with no force of law.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.