As millions of Americans struggle with both a public health and an economic crisis, the Trump administration late Thursday formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety — a move that would cost more than 20 million Americans their health care coverage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's description of the move as "unfathomable cruelty" is an understatement. Combined with the administration's crashing failure to address the pandemic, this action at this time qualifies as political psychosis.
President Barack Obama's signature program, the ACA (Obamacare) has provided health care coverage to millions of Americans who either couldn't afford it or were rendered uninsurable by preexisting medical conditions. Before Obamacare, it was common for insurance companies to deny coverage to people based on conditions like diabetes, heart disease or even pregnancy. The ACA prohibits that practice.
After Republicans took over Congress and the White House in 2017, they tried and failed to end Obamacare but were able to effectively eliminate the portion of the law that put a tax penalty on Americans who don't carry health insurance. Subsequently, Republican state attorneys general — including Missouri's Josh Hawley, now the state's junior senator — sued to have the entire law invalidated based on that missing portion. A conservative federal judge in Texas agreed, sending the case to the Supreme Court.
President Donald Trump has long publicly supported the effort to kill Obamacare while offering no specific program in its place for the millions of Americans who would lose their coverage. So the administration's argument to the court Thursday — while stunningly irresponsible, especially in the face of a sharp new spike in coronavirus infections — wasn't new.
What's new is the pandemic. On the same day administration lawyers were imploring the justices to pull the medical rug out from under some of the most vulnerable people in America, a new report showed that almost half a million people enrolled in the ACA in April and May, a 46% increase over the same period a year earlier. It's a measure of how the twin threats of illness and unemployment have made the Obamacare safety net more crucial than ever. And still, Trump and the GOP are pressing ahead in their effort to cut it down.
Trump, Hawley and most other elected Republicans say they want to protect people with preexisting conditions. Yet they're barreling toward eviscerating the one such protection there is, while offering nothing to replace it. With a conservative-majority court in place, the danger is real that they could succeed.
If so, America would return to a time when a diagnosis of serious illness could also become a sentence of bankruptcy. Every Republican candidate on the ballot this November who supports this twisted attack on American health care — which is virtually the whole party — should pay at the polling places.
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