If the early ads are any indication, health care issues will play a major role in the 2018 race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, which national political prognosticators have pointed to as one of the most competitive of the political cycle.
Groups campaigning to both re-elect and unseat McCaskill are seeking to turn the conversation to topics like abortion, health insurance reform, combating Missouri’s opioid crisis and saving struggling rural hospitals.
The latest ads to hit Kansas City radio criticize McCaskill for not supporting Republican efforts to pull all federal funding from Planned Parenthood. They were paid for by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group for women.
“Strategically, we definitely feel like she’s vulnerable on this issue,” said Marilyn Musgrave, the group’s vice president of government affairs. “It’s about 2018, but it’s also about the reconciliation bill that will go to the Senate shortly.”
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The reconciliation bill is a wide-ranging federal budget bill that includes a provision that would temporarily prohibit facilities that provide abortions from billing Medicaid for other services, including contraception and cancer screenings.
The facilities already cannot use federal dollars for abortion in most cases under a long-standing piece of legislation called the Hyde Amendment. But Musgrave said tax money should be pulled from other services as well because “that money is fungible.”
The Medicaid defunding language is also part of the American Health Care Act, the bill House Republicans passed earlier this year and have touted as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
The Senate has not voted on either bill yet.
“Given her history, I think it’s very predictable Sen. McCaskill will stand with Planned Parenthood,” Musgrave said.
Outside groups also already have hit Kansas City with television ads, including one pushing McCaskill to join the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
A spokeswoman for McCaskill declined to comment on Planned Parenthood funding but released a statement from the senator about the Republican health care bill.
It pointed to legislation McCaskill introduced that would allow people in counties without an insurer on the Affordable Care Act exchange — which could include dozens in Missouri after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City pulled out this week — to buy into congressional health plans.
“I’m ready and willing to work with anyone to improve Missourians’ healthcare, which is why I recently introduced a bill aimed at fixing challenges with the individual insurance market,” McCaskill said. “But I agree with seniors, advocates, doctors, and nurses that the health plan passed by the U.S. House would be a disaster for Missouri families — making older Missourians pay more for their care and gutting protections for folks who’ve been sick before.”
McCaskill doesn’t have an officially declared opponent yet, but several Missouri Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, are considering running against her.
Majority Forward, a political nonprofit with ties to the Senate’s top Democrat, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, has blanketed the Missouri radio waves with ads touting McCaskill’s work fighting the state’s opioid epidemic and seeking answers to rural hospitals’ financial struggles.
The opioid ad highlights her vote on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which authorized $181 million in new grant funding for prevention, education and treatment programs related to opioids, heroin and methamphetamines. Almost every senator voted for it.
The other ad is centered on McCaskill’s support for the Rural Hospital Access Act, which would extend programs that provide increased Medicare payments to rural hospitals.