CORONAVIRUS

Iowa GOP accuses group opposing Ernst of politicizing pandemic

Sen. Joni Ernst meets Feb. 28 with community leaders at Coralville City Hall. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Sen. Joni Ernst meets Feb. 28 with community leaders at Coralville City Hall. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The Iowa GOP has accused Democrats of politicizing the coronavirus pandemic by spreading a “double-barreled lie” about Sen. Joni Ernst’s record on protecting people with preexisting conditions.

“It really is repulsive, and I chose that word carefully,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said Thursday on a call with reporters. “It’s repulsive to see the Democrats politicizing this deadly coronavirus pandemic and an attack ad targeting Joni Ernst.”

Ernst, Iowa’s junior senator, is seeking reelection to a second term this fall. She will face the winner of a five-way Democratic primary in June.

Kaufmann was responding to a seven-figure television ad campaign by Iowa Voices now being seen in the Cedar Rapids and Des Moines media markets. Iowa Voices is the issues and organizing campaign associated with Iowa Forward, an issues advocacy group. Thje ad attacks Ernst’s voting record on legislation Iowa Voices says would allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions.

In announcing the 30-second ad, Iowa Voices posted on social media: “In the midst of #coronavirus, Iowans with preexisting conditions are most at risk. If @SenJoniErnst had her way, those Iowans wouldn’t be protected.”

Emily Holley, executive director of Iowa Forward, said that the current pandemic highlights the importance of everyone having access to health care.

“But Sen. Ernst has voted to allow insurance companies to discriminate against Iowans with preexisting conditions,” Holley said. “That’s wrong, and Iowans need to know how their elected officials are putting lifesaving care out of reach.”

Kaufmann rejected the idea that Ernst doesn’t care about the health and safety of Iowans in a time of pandemic, “which has nothing to do with the preexisting conditions.”

“So this whole thing smells to high heaven,” he said. “I just want to make sure that everyone knows, No. 1, where Joni Ernst’s heart lies in terms of the health and safety of Iowans during this pandemic.

“I also want you to know just how bad this ad is in terms of the overt fibs in ginning up fear,” he added.

In the ad, Daniel McGuire, a Des Moines physician and the husband of the former chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, talks about how many of his patients have preexisting conditions. If the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — is repealed, as Republicans have attempted on multiple occasions, “many of my patients would no longer have health insurance,” he says.

“Tell Sen. Joni Ernst to stop voting to deny my patients health care,” McGuire says.

Provisions within the Affordable Care Act prohibit insurance companies from imposing preexisting condition exclusions or imposing increased premiums for customers with these conditions. Repealing the legislation would take away these protections, opponents said.

The legislation Ernst has sought “specifically prohibits discrimination against patients based on health status, including prohibiting increased premiums for patients due to preexisting conditions,” Kaufmann said.

However, independent analysis of those bills has found “coverage for people with preexisting conditions would have been more expensive and less accessible.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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