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Washington Post: Key House Dem says 'we need a vote on pre-existing conditions right away'

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By Eli Watkins, CNN

The expected future chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee said in an interview with The Washington Post that the House will vote on protecting insurance guarantees for people with pre-existing conditions when Democrats are back in control of the chamber.

"We need a vote on pre-existing conditions right away," Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, told The Washington Post. "We said that was one of the cornerstones of the (Affordable Care Act). After (Republicans) saw how badly their position was polling on it, they said they were for it."

Neal's comments after Tuesday's elections followed a campaign season dominated by talk of health care, where many candidates on both sides pledged to support popular insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The protections have been one of the most popular portions of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, and Democrats have warned that Republicans pose a threat to the measure.

Obamacare transformed the health insurance landscape, particularly for those who are or have been sick. The health care law bans insurers from denying people policies or charging them more based on their medical histories. It also requires carriers to provide comprehensive coverage.

The popularity of these provisions is one of the reasons Republican lawmakers failed in their efforts to repeal Obamacare last year.

Republicans have maintained they could keep the pre-existing conditions guarantee while repealing Obamacare, and President Donald Trump tweeted in late October that "Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions."

The Trump administration, however, said in a legal filing last June that it would not defend central provisions of the health care law, and the measures the Justice Department said should be invalidated would hit the protections for pre-existing conditions.

Neal told the Post that his envisioned legislation would reaffirm the protection for pre-existing conditions while striking back at the suit the Justice Department signed on to. A decision in the case is expected soon.

"Let's establish the principle, embrace it and move on," Neal said.

Neal told CNN on Wednesday that voting on pre-existing conditions was among his top priorities.

"Let's defend Medicare and Social Security, and you know? What let's fix pre-existing conditions so there's never a threat to it again."

Henry Connelly, a spokesman for House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said in a statement that Pelosi supported such a push.

"Voters across the country have delivered a resounding verdict against Republicans' war on health care," the statement said. "The new Democratic House Majority will move swiftly to defend the vital protections for people with people with pre-existing conditions still under legal assault by the GOP."