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PolitiFact Virginia: Spanberger "Half True" On Brat's Pre-Existing Conditions Vote

Spanberger for Congress

Statement: Dave Brat “voted against protecting pre-existing conditions.”

Speaker: Abigail Spanberger

Date: Sept. 28

Venue: TV ad

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a PolitiFact, containing additional information supplied by Spanberger’s campaign after the original fact-check ran on Oct. 11. Our rating of Half True has not changed.

U.S. Rep. Dave Brat has not protected health insurance rates for people with pre-existing conditions, according to Abigail Spanberger, the Democratic challenger in the 7th Congressional District.

Spanberger is making the charge in a widely-played TV ad. It features Jody Cametas, a Goochland attorney, saying her son, Mason, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 10.

“He had to learn to test his blood sugar multiple times a day and give himself injections,” Cametas says. “And it’s so expensive that many families are sharing supplies to make ends meet.

“I feel betrayed by Dave Brat; he voted against protections for pre-existing conditions for families like mine,” she says. The screen switches to video of Brat talking and white letters say, “Brat VOTED AGAINST PROTECTION for pre-existing conditions.”

Cametas finishes, “I voted for Dave Brat once. I will not make that mistake again. I’m voting for Abigail Spanberger.”

Brat campaign spokesperson Katie Price has labeled the claim about the congressman’s vote “a lie,” and called on Spanberger to “correct the record immediately.” Spanberger stands by the commercial. So we investigated whether Spanberger’s ad claim is accurate.

The vote Spanberger defends her ad by citing Brat’s vote on May 4, 2017 for the American Health Care Act - a Republican bill that would have largely repealed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The measure passed the House on a mostly partisan 217-213 vote, but died in the Senate.

One of the most popular parts of Obamacare is a mandate that health insurers cannot reject people on the basis of pre-existing conditions - such as asthma, cancer, heart disease or diabetes - or charge them exorbitant premiums.

The AHCA kept the requirement that people with pre-existing conditions must be offered insurance. But it would have changed Obamacare’s rules limiting how much those people could be charged.

The legislation would have allowed states to get waivers from individual requirements of Obamacare. Insurers in such states would have been permitted to raise the premiums, for one year, of people who were uninsured for at least 63 straight days the previous year.

The bill would have appropriated $8 billion over five years to help people who couldn’t afford their penalty tax. After a year of paying higher rates, penalized people would have again qualify for regular premiums.

In other words, the bill would have been allowed, in some cases, insurers to consider pre-existing conditions in writing policies. But this would have been an unusual occurrence.

The impact
The bill would have had little effect on 153 million Americans who get their health insurance through an employer - roughly half the population under 65. It was unknown how many states would apply for waivers. And only a small percentage of people who buy their own insurance would have had a three-month gap in their coverage, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leading authority on health care.

Kaiser estimated that only “6.3 million people “could potentially face higher premiums under the House’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), due to pre-existing health conditions.”

Additional information
After this fact check was published on Oct. 11, Spanberger’s campaign sent us details about nine other instances when, it said, Brat “voted to remove pre-existing conditions.”

We looked into all of the votes, which came on Republican-backed bills. Eight of them were measures to end or dismantle Obamacare that offered supporters political cover on existing conditions.

Brat voted four times for legislation that called for the repeal of Obamacare with a commitment to finding a different way to protect people with pre-existing conditions. Brat voted another four times for resolutions that would have razed major parts of Obamacare, but left intact its safeguards for pre-existing conditions.

One of the instances cited by Spanberger’s campaign had nothing to do with healthcare; it was a budget amendment to increase spending on an anti-terrorism program.

Our ruling
Spanberger’s ad says Brat “voted against protecting pre-existing conditions,” and, in a limited way, he did when he supported the AHCA. The bill would have allowed states to request a waiver from a popular Obamacare provision barring insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

But Spanberger’s claim omits important information: Few people would have been affected by the change. They would have had to:

       • Live in a state that requested a waiver;

       • Been privately insured, as opposed to getting insurance through an employer; and

       • Gone uninsured for at least 63 straight days the previous year.

Kaiser estimates that about 6.3 million people would have cleared those filters and faced potentially higher - much higher - premiums for one year.

So Spanberger’s claim is partially accurate, but needs context. We rate it Half True.

Abigail Spanberger, “Jody” ad, Sept. 28, 2018.

PolitiFact North Carolina, “Does new version of the ACHA protect coverage for pre-existing conditions?” May 4, 2017.

Interview with Justin Jones, spokesperson for Abigail Spanberger’s campaign, Oct 8, 2018.

News release from Katey Price, spokesperson for Dave Brat’s campaign, Oct. 8, 2018.

Abigail Spanberger, written statement, Oct. 8, 2018., HR1628, May 4, 2017.

Kaiser Family Foundation, AHCA analysis, May 17, 2017.

Congressional Budget Office, Health insurance coverage for people under 65.