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Cathy McMorris Rodgers: DOJ wrong not to defend pre-existing condition measures in Affordable Care Act

FILE - In this March 17, 2017 file photo, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers criticized the Justice Department’s decision not to defend portions of the Affordable Care Act in court, calling it “an attack on pre-existing conditions protections.”

Her announcement on Wednesday followed criticism from her election opponent, Democrat Lisa Brown, that McMorris Rodgers isn’t doing enough to protect patients with pre-existing conditions in the aftermath of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to stop defending the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit. Republican leaders of 20 states are seeking to invalidate the nation’s health care law.

McMorris Rodgers is the latest congressional leader, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to balk at Sessions’ argument.

“This is one of the areas in the Affordable Care Act that was widely agreed upon from both Republicans and Democrats,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “For me, protecting people with pre-existing conditions isn’t just good policy, it’s a personal mission. That’s why I strongly disagree with the Department of Justice’s recent argument of the unconstitutionality of pre-existing conditions protections. I will be following this closely and ready to act if the courts invalidate these protections.”

Sessions, who said he was writing with the approval of President Donald Trump, said he agreed with the states’ determination that congressional action last year eliminating the legal requirement that people buy health insurance also rendered two main pillars of the health care law unconstitutional: the requirements that insurance companies sell policies to anyone, regardless of age, health or gender; and that similar policies should cost the same for everyone. Together, those policies enable sick people to buy plans that weren’t available before the health care law passed.

Lawmakers are reticent to touch one of the most popular provisions of the health care law with the November midterm elections looming. Brown issued a statement late last week critical of McMorris Rodgers and her position that she hasn’t supported legislation that would affect those with pre-existing conditions.

“Since the administration won’t do its duty to defend our laws, Congressional leaders need to either stand up to the administration or pass a law to protect people from losing their coverage,” Brown said in the statement.

Last year, McMorris Rodgers voted for the American Health Care Act, which would have allowed insurers in some cases to charge more for insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, a provision that critics said could have made plans unaffordable to some.

Jack Sorensen, a spokesman for the Brown campaign, repeated that charge Wednesday following the release of McMorris Rodgers’ statement.

“She’s a member of House leadership,” Sorensen said. “It’s one thing to say I don’t agree with the letter, it’s another to say, as a leader, what are you doing in Eastern Washington to protect people with pre-existing conditions?”

Republicans have said the American Health Care Act, which failed to pass the Senate, included provisions that would maintain coverage for sick people seeking plans. Critics said the amount of funding offered in the bill was inadequate to ensure everyone needing coverage is covered, and that the law left up to individual states the question of whether to continue protections currently in place for those with pre-existing conditions.

Jared Powell, a spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers, said the congresswoman is focused on policies that she believes will drive down the cost of health care for individual patients, including allowing people to buy plans across state lines and people employed by similar firms to band together to buy plans. These actions would make it easier and more affordable for people to buy insurance in absence of a mandate to pay, he said.