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Tester highlights pre-existing conditions as Trump rallies Bozeman

From the Complete coverage of Montana's U.S. Senate race series
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Car magnet

Bozeman resident Katie Mazurek holds a car magnet provided by the Tester campaign to highlight pre-existing conditions.

BELGRADE — As President Donald Trump held a campaign-style rally Saturday in Belgrade, continuing his blitz leading up to Tuesday's midterm election, a group of Montanans brought attention to an issue that's been difficult for Republicans on the campaign trail — health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Tester's campaign provided dozens of large car magnets to people with pre-existing conditions. The signs say "I have a pre-existing condition" and have a space where people can write in what condition they have, the idea being that these people would drive around the Bozeman area throughout the day.

Trump is making his fourth trip to Montana to campaign for Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale in his bid against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. With candidate and outside spending hitting at least $60 million, it's the most expensive Senate race in state history and has drawn unprecedented attention from the president and his surrogates.

Health care has been an unpopular topic on the campaign trail for Republicans, who have failed since Trump took office to repeal the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's hallmark health care and insurance legislation. While some have been critical of premium increases that have occurred since the law passed, its protections for people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and cancer are universally popular.

Tester has made health care and health insurance one of the key messages of his campaign, criticizing Rosendale for policies he's endorsed in his role as state auditor, which oversees the health insurance industry in the state.

That includes supporting short-term insurance plans that do not have to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions and that don't meet several other minimum requirements laid out in the Affordable Care Act.

Rosendale has also endorsed health-sharing ministries, which are insurance pools among people of a shared faith. The programs, which are not insurance products regulated by the auditor's office, were previously banned in the state after failing to pay for treatment of a Montana man's heart condition in 2007.

Rosendale, who has called for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, has said he wants to bring more options for Montanans seeking health care. He maintains that things like short-term plans, health-sharing ministries and direct primary care agreements give people choices that are more affordable.

Rosendale points to a program called reinsurance that he says would help work as an “invisible backdrop” to help insurance companies cover people with high medical needs who buy their insurance on the federal marketplace.

Insurance companies buy reinsurance to offset risks from covering people with high-cost and sometimes pre-existing conditions, essentially protecting the companies from high claims for that group of people.

What’s unclear, however, is how that would continue to guarantee protections if the Affordable Care Act was repealed.

An estimated 152,000 Montanans have pre-existing conditions.

Tester has responded to Trump's previous three rallies with counter-advertising. Before this first rally in Great Falls in July, he took out a full-page ad in newspapers around the state welcoming Trump and thanking him for signing bills he'd brought or sponsored. Before a Billings rally he ran television ads highlighting times the president had praised his legislation on veterans, and on the day of a Missoula rally earlier this month he had a digital ad blitz on local media websites pointing out times the campaign said Rosendale had diverted from Trump's agenda.


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