Senate Candidate Says Those With Pre-Existing Conditions Better Off Before ACA
October 16, 2014

Even for a Republican, this is on the more evil edge of evil. In the Arkansas Senate debate Tuesday, Republican candidate Tom Cotton said the high-risk insurance pools people with pre-existing conditions were in were actually better than ACA policies.


Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate for Arkansas’ U.S. Senate seat, has repeatedly denounced the Affordable Care Act as a failure and vowed to help repeal it if elected. But in his second and final debate Tuesday night against Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor, he went further, claiming the high-risk insurance pools that many states ran before Obamacare’s passage were better for people with pre-existing conditions than the current exchanges.

“Many people were happy with their coverage under the high-risk pool, before it was eliminated,” Cotton said. “They should have been allowed to keep that choice.”

Pryor shot back, saying his personal experience proved otherwise. “I am a cancer survivor,” he said. “I have been in the high-risk pool. I have lived there. It is no place for any Arkansan to be. If we go back to the high-risk pool, it’s like throwing sick people to the wolves.”

Many of the high risk pools Cotton praised were known for their sky-high costs, exclusion of many applicants, and strict limits on what care is covered. In Arkansas, out of pocket costs for patients in such pools could be as high as $20,000 and those with pre-existing conditions had an average 6 month waiting period for care.

Americans who could not afford or qualify for the program and lacked an offer of employer-based coverage, were forced to turn to the individual health care market, where they wereroutinely denied coverage. Common disqualifications included diabetes, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, quadriplegia, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS/HIV or even relatively mild health issues like acne.

As Pryor noted in the debate, before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, “people in Arkansas with pre-existing conditions were routinely denied access to coverage. They were one medical emergency away from bankruptcy. The insurance companies had all the power. I think that it would be a mistake to go back to those days.” He then accused Cotton of having “no answer” for what would happen to such people were the nation to “start over” on health care reform—as Cotton has repeatedly advocated.

During the debate at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, the back-and-forth on health care all stemmed from a question about Walmart—the most powerful employer in the state and, arguably, the world—cutting the health insurance of tens of thousands of its part-time workers.

Cotton began by brushing off his opponent’s point that the workers now have the subsidized exchange market to turn to when they lose their employer insurance, an option that did not exist before the Affordable Care Act.

“Those people at Walmart or other companies do not want an option. They want their health insurance,” he said. “They are feeling the pain and stress of losing their insurance and trying to find a better option when they have an exact plan that suited their needs.”

Here in California, the high-risk pools were closed to new entrants. The only reason they re-opened was the Affordable Care Act, which funded them with federal dollars as a bridge until 2014. As they note in the article, IF you were able to get into them, it was costly and difficult to get approval for medications and devices.

As for WalMart, Cotton's defense is to be expected. But they terminated their health coverage for part-time employees across the country because they didn't feel like paying for it anymore when the federal government will subsidize the costs in some cases. Those workers eligible for Medicaid in states that didn't expand it? Meh. They don't give a damn.

If Arkansas elects this frat boy to the Senate, they will live to regret it. Let's hope Pryor can hold on.

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