Some 17 months ago, Republican Congressman Fred Upton of southwest Michigan faced a fury of criticism at the state and national level for his efforts to pass a bill a that came to be known as “Trumpcare” – a GOP attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Mostly because the legislation would not protect access to health care coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions – past health problems or relatively routine medical issues – Upton’s position as a key vote in the House put him in the eye of the political storm in May 2017.
Upton announced that he was voting against the AHCA then flipped to a “yes” vote a day later. The House bill passed by a 217-213 margin, though it eventually stalled in the Senate. The immediate fallout elevated Upton to “Enemy No. 1,” from coast to coast, among lawmakers and health care organizations who denounced Trump’s American Health Care Act (AHCA).
A sea of protesters surrounded Upton’s congressional office in downtown Kalamazoo during two separate demonstrations. To push the bill over the top, the congressman negotiated an amendment with the White House that established an $8 billion allocation over several years to help people with pre-existing conditions afford AHCA coverage. The measure was denounced by critics as a gimmick, a Band-Aid.
The sudden flip led to a Twitter hashtag, #FredFlops, as dozens of opponents across the country heeded calls to send “smelly” flip-flop sandals that were displayed on the steps of the lawmaker’s St. Joseph office.
Yet, a little more than a year later, that tumultuous time seems to have faded in the midst of Upton’s re-election campaign. The 32-year House veteran has settled back into his status as the dean of Michigan’s congressional delegation and a relatively moderate Republican.
Meanwhile, Upton may have dodged a bullet today as the Senate failed by the narrowest margin, 50-50, to reject Trump’s newest dictum allowing for minimal, short-term insurance policies that offer limited coverage. Critics call these healthcare plans “junk” insurance as they do not cover pre-existing conditions or a range of medical services like mental health or prescription drugs.
Republicans argue the short-term plans simply provide a cheaper option alongside more comprehensive Obamacare plans. Democrats view the minimal plans as an effort by the Trump administration to “sabotage” Obama’s Affordable Care Act by siphoning healthy Americans away from the ACA.
If the Senate resolution had received one more vote in favor, it would have gone to the House for approval and would have put Republicans, particularly Upton, on the hot seat. Clearly, health care has emerged as a top campaign issue in polls for many months.
The tie vote in the Senate could still become a factor in House races leading up to the November election, and Upton would be lucky to avoid questions about the so-called junk policies.
Upton’s fortunes looking good
However, the website FiveThirtyEight predicts that Upton is a prohibitive favorite in the mostly Republican 6th Congressional District to win re-election, though by a narrow margin, over Democratic challenger Matt Longjohn.
A late entry into this fight is former Congressman Mark Schauer of Battle Creek, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee who ran against Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014.
In a guest column published today on the liberal Eclectablog website, Schauer tries to revive those days of May 2017 when Upton sided with the White House on healthcare coverage:
Citizens from across the country, from both sides of the political aisle, came out in opposition to a bill that would have allowed insurance companies to deny coverage for people who’ve been sick. The bill was so unpopular that Speaker Paul Ryan announced he didn’t have the votes and millions of Americans and thousands in southwest Michigan breathed a sigh of relief.
But, Congressman Upton couldn’t accept political defeat and went to work to revive the bill to repeal healthcare. Because of his behind-the-scenes work, Upton was solely responsible for giving those against protecting pre-existing conditions another vote.
It remains to be seen how much of an issue pre-existing conditions will become in the final weeks of the 6th District campaign.