A new TV ad by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey accuses Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of voting to let insurers strip coverage for cancer and other pre-existing conditions, but Barletta said Sunday that the ad is both inaccurate and cruel, since his toddler grandson is fighting cancer.
The ad in question began airing Saturday.
It features a woman whose case Casey has cited over the years to argue why Congress needed to require insurers in 2010's federal health care law to let all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones.
In it, the woman, whose twin daughters were diagnosed with cancer, says, "If Lou Barletta has his way, kids like mine could be denied the care they need. In Congress, Barletta voted to let insurance companies strip coverage for pre-existing conditions."
Barletta's 18-month-old grandson, also a twin, is undergoing chemotherapy for an abdominal sarcoma diagnosed seven weeks ago.
On Sunday, Barletta said in an interview it was cruel for Casey to insinuate that he would let his grandson die.
"What does he think my daughter and my family is going to feel every time the commercial comes on? Is he proud of himself? Does he want to win that bad?" Barletta said.
Barletta, a four-term congressman from Hazleton, has long opposed the 2010 health care law, signed by President Barack Obama, and voted to repeal it.
Barletta is challenging Casey's bid for a third Senate term in the Nov. 6 election, but has lagged Casey badly in independent polls and fundraising. Meanwhile, Democrats nationally have used the theme of protections for pre-existing conditions to portray Republicans as hostile to the health care needs of regular people.
Barletta said he wants Casey to take the ad down and said he had told Casey last month about his grandson's diagnosis. The Casey campaign said it had no plans to take down the ad.
Casey's ad is one of three rolling out statewide that attack Barletta over pre-existing conditions, featuring one woman's cancer fight and another woman's struggle with diabetes.
The TV ads do not mention Barletta's grandson.
The ad involving the twin daughters cites Barletta's vote last year in the House on legislation to overhaul elements of Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act. But Barletta insisted that the bill — which stalled in the Senate — did not weaken coverage of pre-existing conditions. Proponents of the bill noted that people in poor health would still be protected as long as they maintain coverage.
Still, analysts said it could have driven up premiums for people with pre-existing conditions who lose their insurance. Under the Republican bill, states could get waivers that allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those customers, but only if they have a gap in coverage and if the state has a mechanism such as a high-risk pool to support them.
Despite distributing billions of dollars to states for high-risk pools, analysts said it lacked any guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions would get access to affordable coverage.
The American Cancer Society echoed some of those concerns, and said at the time that numerous provisions of the bill "would adversely impact access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for cancer patients and survivors."
In any case, Casey's campaign pointed to Barletta's votes before last year to repeal the 2010 health care law.
"Congressman Barletta has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act and rip away protections for 5.3 million Pennsylvanians with preexisting conditions," Casey's campaign said. "He's said time and again that the reason he's running for Senate is to be the 'one vote' to end those protections by repealing the ACA. Barletta will be held accountable for that record on Election Day."