Republican U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Emken this week defended her work lobbying to include autism coverage in the federal health care overhaul backed by President Barack Obama in 2009, even though she opposed the bill.
Emken, one of 23 candidates challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the June 5 ballot, has come under fire from Republican opponents over records showing Autism Speaks sought to influence the outcome of the legislation when she was listed as a top lobbyist for the nonprofit advocacy group.
The Danville Republican, whose 19-year-old son is autistic, said the organization lobbied lawmakers to include language to ensure that health care companies would provide coverage for medical issues and treatment related to the condition under the new law.
Emken said that while she disagrees with the overall approach of the health care overhaul, the effort to include the language was important for her and the organization because autism is "perfect example of a catastrophic medical event" that some insurance companies will not cover.
"What we were doing is, as everyone was doing when you have a Democratically-controlled Senate, House and president, everyone, Democrats and Republicans are all working on a piece of legislation that's on the table," she said during a Sacramento press availability Tuesday. "That's how it's done. You don't just walk away if you don't like how things are going. You continue to work on it."
Emken said the reference to autism did not make it into the bill, which was signed into law in 2010, and regulatory language emerging on the issue is "extremely nebulous." She said that outcome reinforced her opposition to the law.
"The issues are so long and vast and broad with Obamacare," she said, "I really believe the only solution is to repeal it, but I do believe in replacing it with real health care reform and real health insurance reform."
Emken dismissed the attacks from opponents, saying they are "to be expected" because she won the endorsement of the California Republican Party.
"As you can imagine, it's very natural that I'm sure the other Democratic candidates are going to be making comments about Dianne Feinstein and (Republicans are) going to be making comments about me and they're going to be unified in that because I have the support of the California Republican Party," she said.
PHOTO CREDIT: Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Elizabeth Emken speaks at a news conference in Sacramento on April 10, 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli