McCaskill and Hawley’s fight over pre-existing conditions gets personal

Claire McCaskill wants her supporters to talk about health care and pre-existing conditions.

But Josh Hawley says one of her supporters crossed the line when he brought Hawley’s family into that discussion, and McCaskill crossed the line by spreading his words.

The hotly contested Senate race between McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, and Hawley, the Republican Missouri attorney general, is becoming increasingly personal as the Nov. 6 midterm elections approach with control of Congress on the line.

McCaskill told a group of about 50 supporters at a campaign event Monday in the Crossroads Arts District that health care should be the No. 1 issue they talk about when they knock on doors for her.

Specifically, she wants to hammer on the lawsuit Hawley filed to overturn the Affordable Care Act and its requirement that insurers cover people who have pre-existing medical conditions.

“He is willing to score a political point for the ideology of being against Obamacare and allow people to pay a price when they don’t have that protection,” McCaskill said.

But McCaskill also found herself on the defensive Monday after Hawley took issue with her tweeting a blog post by the co-author of her memoir that said Hawley was using his son’s medical condition as a “prop.”

Hawley said he supports requiring health insurers to cover pre-existing conditions in a campaign ad last month about his son, who has a rare chronic bone condition.

Hawley was irate Monday over the tweet, which McCaskill posted Sunday evening.

“As a father, I’m not too pleased,” Hawley said to a crowd of at least 50 at a campaign stop in Riverside. “And I would just say to Sen. McCaskill, you owe my family an apology. You owe my son an apology. You owe the voters of Missouri an apology and they deserve better than you, Claire.”

McCaskill said Monday that the blog post “said a lot of things that were important for people to know” but she would not have used the word “prop” if she had written it.

“I certainly think Josh Hawley has a beautiful family and I would never attack his family,” McCaskill said. “His campaign has spent millions unfairly attacking my family, so I find it a little hypocritical.”

McCaskill’s focus on pre-existing conditions reflects a national strategy for Democrats.

After years of getting hammered by Republicans for the unpopular parts of the ACA, they’re now on the offensive criticizing Republicans for jeopardizing one of its most popular provisions.

Hawley is just one of 20 Republican attorneys general participating in the suit in Texas that seeks to overturn the entire law based on the argument that it became unconstitutional when Congress repealed the part that requires Americans to carry insurance.

As Democrats have ramped up their attacks, Republicans have increasingly said they will seek other ways to maintain the pre-existing condition protections if the suit nullifies them. Hawley and others like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have used personal stories about loved ones with medical conditions to reassure voters they understand the importance of the issue.

McCaskill said Monday Hawley’s actions speak louder than his words.

“When he filed that lawsuit as a Yale-educated lawyer, he could have easily said to the court, ‘I want you to find this law unconstitutional, but I would like to sever out pre-existing conditions,” McCaskill said. “It’s called severability. ... (Instead) he said, ‘Find it all unconstitutional,’ and he knows there’s no backup.”

Hawley said he didn’t think the pre-existing conditions protections contained in the ACA were severable, saying the law was written to go together and that the Obama administration had argued as such in court.

“They wrote it so that patients with pre-existing conditions would be held hostage to the rest of Obamacare, and that is precisely what Barack Obama argued in court for eight years,” Hawley said. “He argued over and over and over that pre-existing conditions under his plan had to go with all the rest of Obamacare.”

Hawley said McCaskill should commit to supporting other legislation to protect those with pre-existing conditions.

Craig O’Dear, an independent candidate running against Hawley and McCaskill, said they have become part of an overly politicized fight about health insurance, rather than having a productive discussion about the costs of health care.

“We’ve got 10 years of noise, (as) the two parties have gone after each other over why health insurance premiums keep rising,” O’Dear said. “They keep rising because the cost of what’s being insured keeps rising and that’s not going to change until we deal with our business model for how we deliver health care.”

But Kansas City resident Sally Barhydt said Monday that coverage for pre-existing conditions still resonates with her as an election issue. She said she was doing freelance work in the publishing industry in New York City in the late 1970s when she tried to buy health insurance and was denied simply because she had a routine doctor’s visit within the past year.

“That was enough — I had been to the doctor,” said Barhydt, who was at McCaskill’s event. “It didn’t take anything.”