Allyson Schwartz: I love Obamacare more than they do

    U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz scored an appearance on MSNBC Monday night to debut her TV ad (above) touting her support for, and role in crafting, the Affordable Care Act.

    The appearance is fascinating in that it’s clear the network and guest host Ari Melber are excited about Schwartz’s ad because they want to see Democrats who are running against Republicans this year embrace Obamacare. There’s no mention in the nine-minute piece that Schwartz is not running at the moment against a Republican, but against three other Democrats in the party’s May 20 primary. I wonder if Melber even knew.

    In a conference call with Pennsylvania reporters Wednesday, Schwartz took the issue to her primary opponents, saying she’s the only Democrat in the race “who’s willing to express both pride in the law and an understanding and willingness to make it work for Pennsylvanians.”

    “I believe I bring a unique position of working on this law, helping it become law,” she added, “and a deep understanding and willingness to take on Tom Corbett in the general election, and knowing what it takes to push to implement this in Pennsylvania.”

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    Schwartz said front-runner Tom Wolf  “was silent” on the ACA recently when speaking to the York Daily Record.

    Here’s a piece of what Wolf said to the Daily Record. He didn’t mention the ACA specifically, but he enthusiastically endorsed the Medicaid expansion which Gov. Corbett has rejected and is a central provision of the law.

    I contacted the campaigns of each of the Democratic candidates to ask if they were proud of Obamacare, and each responded with plenty of media clips documenting their support.

    Katie McGinty’s campaign manager Mike Mikus went further, saying that Schwartz is “the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has supported legislation that would weaken the Affordable Care Act while also endangering Medicare.”

    He’s referring to Schwartz’s opposition to a couple of pieces of the law, medical devices tax, and the Independent Payment Advisory Board (find a sharp critique of Schwartz on this here). Asked about that in her conference call, Schwartz said the ACA is a complex measure that came with some provisions she’d “like to see modified.”

    If some Democrats are less than full-throated in their support of Obamacare, it could be they’re thinking about the general election. Polls show the ACA is a winning issue among Democrats, less so with independents. It’s worth noting that the Corbett campaign couldn’t have been happier to see Schwartz’s ad and her appearance on MSNBC.

    Did Schwartz write a key provision of the health care law?

    Schwartz’s ad and her comments on MSNBC suggest, but don’t quite say. that she was responsible for one of the most popular elements of the Affordable Care Act.

    “It was my legislation that said insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for kids with pre-existing conditions,” Schwartz says in the ad. On MSNBC she said, “It was language that I introduced as a law that got included in the Affordable Care Act.”

    Does that mean she’s the primary author of the provision, or did she simply introduce a bill that never passed, which allowed her to claim authorship of an idea certain to be included in health reform?

    I pose the question because a key element of Schwartz’s campaign message is that she’s not just someone with progressive ideas, but a proven leader with a record of getting things done.

    I asked Schwartz in the conference call if she could explain a bit more about the relationship between her bill and the language in the ACA.

    “I sat on the committee that had major responsibility for this law, the Ways and Means Committee,” she said.  “And we spent hundreds of hours discussing different aspects.” She said the language from her law “was included,” and she said while the provision seems universally embraced now, denial of coverage had been the practice for years, and insurance companies were very resistant to the idea.

    I don’t know enough about the details of drafting congressional legislation to have a feel for this, but I know a lot of lawmakers introduce bills that allow them to attach their names to good ideas.

    I asked Schwartz’s campaign for more, and they sent more: a footnote from a 2014 Commonwealth Fund report that said most early market reforms in the ACA were included in earlier legislation, citing H.R. 2842 (Schwartz’s bill); a 2012 Inquirer endorsement editorial, which said Schwartz “helped write the Affordable Care Act”; and a 2009 Allentown Morning Call article, which described Schwartz as active and influential on health care reform efforts.

    I called Robert Field, a professor of law and health management policy at Drexel, who followed the passage of the ACA closely and wrote a book about the creation of the law. He said he wasn’t aware of Schwartz being regarded as a primary architect of the law or its provision barring insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. He said there’s no doubt it would have been included in the ACA under any circumstances. “It’s fundamental to the law,” he said.

    Where does that leave us? Hard to say. Legislators have to be team players, and unless you’re in your chamber’s leadership or the prime sponsor of a major piece of legislation, it may be hard to document exactly how important you were in making it happen. But the careful language in Schwartz’s ad makes me feel she’s reaching a bit.

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