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Registered nurse Estella Wilmarth tends to a patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington. Registered nurse Estella Wilmarth tends to a patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington.

Registered nurse Estella Wilmarth tends to a patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington.

Madeline Heim
By Madeline Heim April 15, 2022

Godlewski off-base with claim on Johnson’s view on coverage for those with pre-existing conditions

If Your Time is short

  • Johnson is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, which includes a key provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. 

  • But he has said consistently he supports securing coverage for those people, even if it’s not through the Affordable Care Act. 

  • Godlewski’s office pointed to a vote he cast in 2017 that would have allowed insurance companies to have plans that denied such coverage. But that amendment also required companies to have at least one plan that provided it.

It’s no secret that U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson isn’t a fan of the Affordable Care Act, the signature health care law of the Obama administration, passed in 2010. 

A hallmark of the law was its rule that health insurance companies can’t refuse to cover people or charge them more if they have a pre-existing condition — a health problem they had before the insurance coverage started. 

Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, a Democrat who’s vying to unseat Johnson this fall, targeted Johnson this way in a April 1, 2022 tweet

"Ron Johnson is trying to let insurance companies deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions like cancer, depression, pregnancy, diabetes — or even COVID." 

That coverage, of course, is a key provision in the ACA.

But does that mean Godlewski is right?

2017 amendment wouldn’t have denied sick people health coverage, but could have hiked up cost   

When asked to provide evidence of her claim, Godlewski’s office sent a list of votes Johnson has cast in favor of repealing or scaling back the health care law. 

Soon after he took office, Johnson cosponsored a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saying in a Jan. 26, 2011 news release that it was "the single greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime." He voted multiple times to drop the law’s individual mandate, which required most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty, and voted for a series of attempted repeals during the summer of 2017. 

But just because he wanted to get rid of the law doesn’t necessarily mean he wanted people with pre-existing conditions to go without protections. After all, many Republicans have said they support that provision, and it is widely popular with voters

Godlewski’s strongest evidence stems from a vote Johnson cast for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, an amendment to the GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The final version of the amendment — which failed — would have allowed insurance companies to offer plans that could deny coverage to sick people as long as they carried at least one comprehensive plan that followed the Affordable Care Act’s rules. 

Insurance companies and patient groups decried the amendment, saying it would make those comprehensive plans more costly and create two systems of insurance, one for healthy and one for sick people. 

Featured Fact-check

In that specific instance, then, Johnson did vote for legislation that could have allowed insurance companies to have plans that denied people with pre-existing conditions coverage. 

But — to get technical — all of those companies would also have had to have at least one plan that did cover people with pre-existing conditions, even if it was likely to end up being expensive.

Johnson has said he wants to protect people with pre-existing conditions

Johnson’s office said the senator has committed to protections for people with pre-existing conditions. They pointed to his introduction of the Protect Act in February 2021, which would prohibit health insurers from imposing exclusions on plans based on pre-existing conditions. (The bill has not moved from committee.)      

They also cited a response Johnson gave to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel inquiry about his views on health care on March 17, 2022: "The first step in any health care reform would assure everyone that people with preexisting conditions would be protected by having their insurance rates subsidized so that they pay the same rates as those without preexisting conditions."  

In a June 26, 2017 New York Times opinion piece criticizing the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Johnson wrote that he was in part dissatisfied with the bill because it "leaves in place the pre-existing condition rules that drive up the cost of insurance for everyone." 

But he followed that by writing that the country "should look to improve successful models for protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions, models underway prior to Obamacare." 

To be sure, his statements are just that — statements. Skeptics may question whether the views are sincere, or if political roadblocks would prevent it from happening.

But given current facts as they’re known, Godlewski’s claim doesn’t quite hold up. 

Our ruling 

Godlewski claimed Johnson is trying to let insurance companies deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. 

The senator did cast a vote in 2017 that would have opened the door for insurance companies to offer such plans, but still would have required them to offer other plans that did provide that coverage. 

And he’s said consistently that he aims to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. 

Our definition of Mostly False is a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. That fits here. 

Our Sources

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "Can I get coverage if I have a pre-existing condition?" accessed April 14, 2022

Office of Sen. Ron Johnson, "Johnson cosponsors Obamacare repeal," Jan. 26, 2011

U.S. Senate roll call votes, 114th Congress, accessed April 14, 2022

The New York Times, "How each senator voted on Obamacare repeal proposals," July 28, 2017

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Poll: The ACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Protections Remain Popular with the Public, including Republicans, As Legal Challenge Looms This Week," Sept. 5, 2018

U.S. Senate roll call votes, 115th Congress, accessed April 15, 2022

Vox, "The new Senate health care bill — and the return of preexisting conditions — explained," July 13, 2017

CBS News, "Insurance groups tear into Cruz amendment to health care bill as ‘unworkable,’" July 15, 2017

Patient advocacy groups, New Draft of BCRA Fails to Adequately Protect People with Pre-existing Conditions, July 13, 2017

Email exchange, Alexa Henning, office of Sen. Ron Johnson

Congress.gov, Protect Act, accessed April 15, 2022

 

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Godlewski off-base with claim on Johnson’s view on coverage for those with pre-existing conditions

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