HENDERSON, Nev.—Republican senator Dean Heller (Nev.) is pushing back on Democratic efforts to distort his and the GOP's stance on preexisting conditions.
Heller, the only sitting Republican senator running for re-election in a state carried by Hillary Clinton, knows better than anyone how strongly voters feel about preexisting conditions and how those feelings have been exploited for political gain.
His Democratic opponent, first-term congresswoman Jacky Rosen, and dark money groups have spent millions flooding the Nevada airwaves with attack ads alleging the senator wants to gut provisions in the Affordable Care Act that ensure individuals can't be denied insurance coverage for preexisting medical issues.
Heller calls such distortions of his record false, arguing they're part of a larger political strategy by the Democratic Party.
"This was a Washington, D.C., hit piece on every Republican across the country, not just me," Heller said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "You know, they were saying that about every Republican. You couldn't watch a debate that the Democratic candidate didn't get his talking points from D.C. about preexisting conditions."
He compared the Democrats' rhetoric on preexisting conditions this cycle to the false attacks leveled against Mitt Romney and other Republicans in 2012 over Medicare.
"This is what the Democratic Party does because they're bereft of any ideas," Heller said. "They had to come up with something this time [and] it just happened to be preexisting conditions. Last time it was throwing grandma off the cliff."
The senator added that such efforts were not only "absurd" but showed how far the Democratic Party was willing to go to try and "scare" Americans into voting for them.
Heller is not the only Republican facing attacks over preexisting conditions. Across the country, Republican House and Senate candidates are being accused of wanting to scrap such protections.
In Heller's case, the attacks have grown more frequent as polls show him pulling away from Rosen.
What the ads fail to note, however, is that Heller has helped author two pieces of legislation to protect individuals with preexisting conditions. One of those measures was introduced earlier this year in response to a federal lawsuit challenging the ACA's constitutionality in light of Congress's repeal of the individual mandate. The attacks further fail to mention that Heller voted against an effort to repeal the ACA without a concrete replacement plan for those relying on the program for insurance coverage.
The Democrats fixation on preexisting conditions ignore the adverse effects the ACA has had on individuals and families.
Kevin Rodela, an employee of the Clark County School District, told the Free Beacon his family's health insurance premiums have increased exponentially since the ACA's passage.
"In 2010, prior to Obamacare, we were paying $56 per pay period for health insurance," Rodela said. "The first year after Obamacare went into effect our premiums jumped to $147 per pay period … the following year our plan increased to $412 per pay period."
"That's nearly $800 a month—how can someone support themselves, let alone their family, if they're paying that much per month on health insurance?"
Heller understands the challenges faced by Rodela and contends the Democrats focus on preexisting conditions is a political ploy to distract attention from the portions of the ACA that aren't working.
"They had to change the subject," the senator said. "The only way they could change the topic was to make something up.… I don't know a single Republican, not in our conference in Washington, D.C., that wants to eliminate coverage for preexisting conditions. That is a completely made up topic."
"But to [the Democrats'] credit, they found something that they can scare Nevadans with, something they could scare Americans with, knowing it's not true," Heller added. "They found something they could put a $100 million dollars behind and make it work."
The senator partially faults the media for having "run" with the narrative that Republicans don't care about preexisting conditions, even joking that he sometimes wonders if they take their "cues" from the Democratic National Committee.
"The media doesn't think for themselves anymore—they just do whatever the DNC tells them to," Heller said. "I've watched this for the last 18 months and half the things they say they know aren't true but they're going to repeat them anyway."