The 6 must-watch campaign ads that reveal how health care is shaping the midterm elections

Topics: Health Care Reform, Insurance, Health Plans/Insurance Companies, Medicaid, Politics and Policy, Elections, Federal Government, Health Care Legislation

By Heather Bell, managing editor

This week, congressional candidates across the country are making their final appeals before voters cast their ballots on Election Day—and for many candidates, health care is front and center.

The latest Kaiser Family Foundation data show health care is a key issue for voters nationwide, outranking the economy, immigration, and gun policy as the "most important" issue this election cycle.

It's really no surprise, then, that nearly half of congressional TV ads that aired between September 18 and October 15 mentioned health care.

The topic is most prominent in congressional TV ads for Democratic candidates, who in many cases are sharing personal stories of living with a pre-existing condition intended to criticize their Republican opponents' efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some Republicans, particularly those in Senate races, have adopted a similar approach, intended to soften their positions on the ACA and pre-existing conditions.

Below we look at six of the most notable health care ads from Republican and Democratic congressional candidates that have aired this election season.

3 must-watch health care ads from Democrats

1) Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's "Denise"


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is running for re-election against Rep. Kevin Cramer, a three-term Republican in the House.

Heitkamp's ad is a prime example of how Democrats across the country are leveraging personal pre-existing condition stories. In this ad, Heitkamp shares not only her own battle with breast cancer, but features a North Dakota woman, Denise Sandvick, who has been diagnosed with heart disease. During the ad, Sandvick looks directly into the camera and asks Cramer why he supports undoing protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

2) Elissa Slotkin's "Farm"


Slotkin is a former intelligence analyst at the CIA, running as a Democrat against incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop (R) for Michigan's 8th congressional district.

Slotkin's ad also focuses on pre-existing conditions by sharing the story of her mother's illness. In a voiceover, Slotkin says her mother was diagnosed at a young age with breast cancer, and years later, after losing her job and health insurance, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Slotkin recalls taking leave from the CIA to serve as her mother's caregiver and rushing her wedding so her mother could attend. Slotkin says, "This is a story about my mom, but it could be about anyone's mom."

3) David Brill's "Paul Gosar Is Not Working For You"



Brill is a doctor who is running for Arizona's 4th congressional district in the House against incumbent Rep. Paul Gosar.

While many Democrats have focused on pre-existing conditions, Brill's ad focuses on rural health care. But the most surprising thing about this ad is not the message but who the message is coming from. The ad features six of Gosar's nine brothers and sisters who collectively argue that if voters in rural Arizona care about health care, they should not vote for their brother, Paul Gosar.

3 must-watch health care ads from Republicans  

1) Josh Hawley's 'Driven'


Hawley, Missouri's current attorney general who is running as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill

Hawley's ad also hits home on pre-existing conditions. The ad features video of Hawley's wife and two sons playing in the front yard. Hawley shares that his family recently learned their oldest son has a rare chronic disease and that he supports "forcing insurance companies to cover all pre-existing conditions." Hawley, who is one of the 20 GOP state officials challenging the constitutionality of the ACA, never mentions the ACA by name, but says that voters deserve a candidate who is "driven to fixing this mess."

2) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher "Unnamed"


Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is running for re-election against Democratic candidate Harley Rouda, an attorney and entrepreneur.

Rohrabacher is well known for taking a unique approach to health care, and his ad explains why the issue is so personal for him. In a USA Today op-ed earlier this year, Rohrabacher outlined a plan that would allow private health plans to deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions but would open Medicare up to affected patients who need coverage for services related to those conditions. In his ad, Rohrabacher discloses that his daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.

3) Rep. Kevin Cramer's "Heidi's misleading ad" 


Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is challenging Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for her Senate seat.

Cramer's ad is a direct rebuttal to Heitkamp's health care ads. Cramer's ad hones in on the factual questions the media has raised about Heitkamp's claims and accuses her of trying to mislead the public on his stance. The ad states that "Cramer voted for guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions," citing his support for the American Health Care Act. However, Politifact determined that Cramer's claim was "mostly false" because while the AHCA would have maintained the ACA's requirement that people with pre-existing conditions could not be denied health coverage, it would have eliminated limits on how much insurers could charge people with pre-existing conditions.