Three years ago today, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed legislation that was intended to destroy the Obama-era Affordable Care Act (ACA).
All of the cool Republican kids voiced support for destroying the ACA in 2016, and they very nearly succeeded in doing just that in 2017 before the late Sen. John McCain gave his famous “thumbs down” vote in the U.S. Senate. President Trump still tried to claim victory in killing the ACA, saying in late 2017, “I shouldn’t say this, but we essentially repealed Obamacare.” Republicans should be thankful that they didn’t succeed in literally repealing the ACA, and not just because they could never figure out how to write a functional repeal-and-replace bill.
An issue that was once a fun political piñata for the GOP took a different turn once a federal judge in Texas struck down Obamacare, setting up a penultimate fight in the U.S. Supreme Court that probably won’t be decided before the 2020 election. Republicans are lucky for the delay; as The Associated Press reports, the coronavirus pandemic would be much more catastrophic for Americans if not for the ACA:
COVID-19 could have stamped a person “uninsurable” if not for the Affordable Care Act. The ban on insurers using preexisting conditions to deny coverage is a key part of the Obama-era law that the Trump administration still seeks to overturn.
Without the law, people who recovered from COVID-19 and tried to purchase an individual health insurance policy could be turned down, charged higher premiums or have follow-up care excluded from coverage. Those considered vulnerable because of conditions such as respiratory problems or early-stage diabetes would have run into a wall of insurer suspicion…[Pols emphasis]
…From nearly 12 million people to 35 million could lose their workplace coverage due to layoffs in the coronavirus shutdown, according to an estimate by the consulting firm Health Management Associates. They have more options because of the Obama-era law.
Let’s stop here and reiterate this point: Imagine how different things might be today if testing positive for COVID-19 would have rendered you uninsurable. More than a few people would be resisting treatment and testing for as long as possible, thus silently spreading the coronavirus deeper into our communities.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will receive arguments on a separate lawsuit related to the ACA — a legal challenge to a requirement compelling insurance plans to provide coverage for contraceptive services. It will serve as another reminder that Republicans such as Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) are still very much in favor of repealing the ACA. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gardner has taken time to publicly affirm his support for destroying Obamacare.
As a group of political scientists wrote for The Washington Post last week, Republicans who oppose Obamacare — including Gardner — have lately embraced some of the ACA’s main tenets:
But the coronavirus pandemic’s fast-moving destruction has pushed Republicans to rely on Barack Obama’s signature law to respond to the crisis, even taking action to strengthen it. The law, as written, requires that Americans who have recently lost jobs and insurance coverage to be permitted to enroll in its insurance marketplace, and they are doing so in swelling numbers. Meanwhile, Republicans recently backed stimulus legislation that increased federal funding for a critical part of the ACA: Medicaid for lower-income people. And Trump administration regulators have used their authority to insist that insurance plans pay for coronavirus tests as an “essential health benefit” under the ACA — a Republican target in the past.
Gardner’s 2014 Senate campaign was all about his opposition to the ACA. Four years later, health care was THE most dominant issue in an election cycle that ended with significant Democratic political gains both nationally and here in Colorado. In 2020, health care — via the coronavirus — will again be the top motivating force for voters, and Republicans are well aware of the problem this presents for them. Voters didn’t want to get rid of the ACA before the coronavirus pandemic; they sure as hell aren’t going to be enthusiastic about it now.
Back to The Associated Press we go:
Some GOP lawmakers in contested races this fall are unnerved by the prospect of Trump administration lawyers asking the Supreme Court during the coronavirus outbreak to toss out a law that provides coverage to at least 20 million Americans.
“The ACA remains the law of the land, and it is the Department of Justice’s duty to defend it,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “That is especially true during the current public health crisis our country is facing due to COVID-19.”
She is among those urging the administration not to get rid of the law but instead make broader use of it to cover uninsured people during the pandemic. Collins is considered among the most endangered incumbents as Republicans try to keep their Senate majority.
While Gardner hasn’t publicly changed his position in support of dismantling the ACA, he knows it’s not a political winner and thus is not an issue he really wants to talk about anymore. The bad news for him is that anti-ACA lawsuits and the coronavirus won’t make that possible in 2020.