America is in the midst of unprecedented public health and economic crises that have shaken the foundations of our nation. Nearly 200,000 Americans are dead because of COVID-19, millions have contracted the virus, and unemployment levels rival the Great Recession. And our national emergency isn’t likely to be over anytime soon.
Yet, even amid a pandemic that has made access to healthcare more important than ever, President Donald Trump and Republican state attorneys general are moving forward with their lawsuit to strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. This assault on the healthcare of millions, at this moment of crisis, is as inexplicable as it is unforgivable.
The case has worked its way through the judicial system and is set to come before the Supreme Court this fall. In June, the Trump administration filed its briefs in the case, laying out its argument that because Congress repealed the individual mandate, the remainder of the law cannot stand and should be invalidated entirely. That rationale has been widely panned by legal scholars and is contrary to statements made by congressional Republican leaders when they voted to repeal the mandate. What’s worse is that Republicans clearly have no plan for what will happen if they win.
If their case succeeds, it would create a humanitarian catastrophe. It would rip healthcare from more than 23 million Americans and allow insurers to once again deny care to or raise premium rates through the roof for the 130 million Americans with a preexisting medical condition. It would eliminate financial assistance that helps millions afford plans through the exchanges. And it would make it so that insurance companies no longer have to cover essential health benefits like prescription drugs or trips to the emergency department.
When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Trump and the Republicans could have withdrawn their lawsuit. Taking healthcare away from millions of Americans is a bad idea anytime, but it can be deadly during a pandemic, as many Americans lose access to care as they lose their jobs. But they didn’t withdraw it. Instead, they pressed forward with the lawsuit, while continuing to make it difficult for Americans to get covered through the ACA.
When it was clear the pandemic would shut down the country, a dozen states that operate their own health insurance exchanges, including Connecticut, held special enrollment periods to allow people to get covered. Health insurers, governors and congressional leaders urged the Trump administration for a national special enrollment period, but it refused.
This pandemic has made it clear just how much we need the Affordable Care Act. For the millions who lost their jobs and employer-provided insurance, the ACA has been a lifeline that allows them to find coverage and get financial subsidies to reduce the cost of their premiums. For the millions of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, provisions written into the law guarantee that their plan will cover testing, hospital care and emergency services. And for those who get sick from COVID-19, the ACA ensures that their health insurer cannot jack up the price they pay simply because of this preexisting condition.
There has never been a more important time to protect and expand Americans’ healthcare. And there has never been a worse time to rip it away. But that is exactly what Trump and Republicans are trying to do at the Supreme Court. We can’t let them get away with it.