Arizona Senate candidate makes health care pledge that contradicts past votes, policy positions
Trailing Democratic challenger Mark Kelly in one of the country’s most hotly contested Senate races, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally is seeking to tie herself to an issue with across-the-aisle appeal: insurance protections for people with preexisting health conditions.
"Of course I will always protect those with preexisting conditions. Always," the Republican said in a TV ad released June 22.
The ad comes in response to criticisms by Kelly, who has highlighted McSally’s votes to undo the Affordable Care Act. That, he argued, would leave Americans with medical conditions vulnerable to higher-priced insurance.
The Arizona Senate race has attracted national attention and is considered a toss-up, though Kelly is leading in many polls. McSally’s attempt to present herself as a supporter of protecting people with preexisting conditions — a major component of the 2010 health law — is part of a larger pattern in which vulnerableRepublican incumbents stake out positions advocating for this protection while also maintaining the GOP’s strong stance against the ACA.
McSally, who was appointed by the governor to take over John McCain’s Senate seat in 2019, used similar messaging in her failed 2018 bid for the state’s other Senate position. And President Donald Trump echoed the declaration at a June 23 rally in Phoenix, saying McSally — along with the rest of the Republican Party — "will always protect people with preexisting conditions."
With that in mind, we decided to take a closer look. We contacted McSally’s campaign, which cited her support of a different piece of legislation, the Protect Act. But independent experts told us that legislation doesn’t satisfy the standard she sets out.
Past and present
Only one national law makes sure people with preexisting medical conditions don’t face discrimination or higher prices from insurers. It’s the Affordable Care Act.
Both as a member of the House of Representatives and as a senator, McSally has supported efforts to undo the health law — voting in 2015 to repeal it and in 2017 to replace it with the Republican-backed American Health Care Act, which would have permitted insurers to charge higher premiums for people with complicated medical histories.
"Anyone who voted for that bill was voting to take away the ACA’s preexisting condition protections," said Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "Sen. McSally is trying to erase history for electoral purposes."
Especially as COVID-19 cases climb, health care— and, in particular, the ACA — has emerged as a flashpoint in the Arizona election, said Dr. Daniel Derksen, a professor of public health, medicine and nursing at the University of Arizona.
"Martha McSally has in her actions, in her votes, been pretty consistent about cutting back benefits and trying to repeal the ACA without any clear plan in mind that would protect people who gained insurance through the ACA," Derksen added. "Her words on preexisting condition protections don’t align with any votes I’ve seen."