INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., never has run away from his 2010 vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and he's once again openly embracing the health law this year as he runs for re-election, despite continuing criticism from Republicans.
At this month's Democratic state convention, Donnelly declared "health care is a basic human right for every single American," with the Affordable Care Act bringing the United States closer to living out that principle.
The senator said more than 400,000 Hoosiers have health coverage today thanks to the ACA, many through the Healthy Indiana Plan. In its current form, enacted by now-Vice President Mike Pence, HIP is nearly entirely funded by federal taxes collected under the health law.
Donnelly noted that quite a few of those Hoosiers didn't have health coverage prior to the ACA.
He said they often had to choose between paying for medical care or other impossibly large expenses, such as sending their kids to college, and almost always prioritized their kids over themselves.
As a result, Donnelly said Indiana hospitals in his hometown near South Bend, in Northwest Indiana and across the state saw a sharp uptick in treatment for chronic health conditions in 2014 once most of the law's provisions took effect.
"This is the first time in their lives these people have ever had the chance to have health care," Donnelly said. "This isn't a new problem they have. It's the first time they could ever get it fixed."
Donnelly told the Democratic convention delegates that's one reason why he's determined to ensure the ACA isn't repealed by the current Republican majorities in Congress.
"Last year, while I'm in the United States Senate, we had a vote. A vote to end the Affordable Care Act, that would take away coverage for pre-existing conditions, that would make it so that all of this coverage would go away for over 400,000 Hoosiers," Donnelly said.
"When that vote came up last year, we were able to protect health care by one vote. You gave me that vote. I took it to protect health care for over 400,000 Hoosiers."
'I'm here to do what's right'
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer promptly jumped on that statement to accuse Donnelly of being "the deciding vote" to save Obamacare, even though Republican President Donald Trump regularly acknowledges the famous "thumbs down" by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was what killed ACA repeal.
"For years, Democrat Donnelly has been telling Hoosiers that Obamacare needs to be fixed, while at the same time, voting to preserve this disastrous law every time it comes up for a vote in Washington," Hupfer said.
"Now, faced with the reality that he can’t even keep his hard-core Democrat supporters in line after months of touting his supposed support for President Trump, Democrat Donnelly is doubling down on his embrace of Obamacare and is finally conceding that he was, in fact, the deciding vote to perpetuate the premium spikes, lost coverage and overall chaos and disarray brought about by this law."
Donnelly said he heard similar lines eight years ago when he ran for a third term in the U.S. House, and again six years ago when Hoosiers elected him to the U.S. Senate.
"I was told, in 2010, if you vote for the Affordable Care Act, you will lose in November," Donnelly said. "And my response was: I'm not here to do what's easy, I'm here to do what's right for the people of the United States of America."
"I voted for the Affordable Care Act. And, in November, we won the election."
The senator believes Hoosiers back him because, as he told Indiana crowds large and small last year at some 544 events in all 92 counties, "I'm the hired help, working for you."
"We work for those who get up in the dark and come home in the dark," Donnelly said. "For families who want to make sure that their kids have a shot. That the American dream works for everybody, everybody."
Donnelly remains confident that no matter what the Indiana GOP, or his opponent, former state Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, throw at him on health care, Hoosiers know that Donnelly did the right thing by supporting the ACA and will vote to keep him in the Senate.
"Come January of next year you can call me Joe," he proclaimed. "But you'll still be able to call me Sen. Joe Donnelly."