Supreme Court dumps fate of Affordable Care Act right into height of election campaign
Affordable Care Act supporters hold up signs outside the Supreme Court as they wait for an earlier court decision on Obamacare, June 25, 2015. | Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court has dumped the fate of the Affordable Care Act right into the height of the 2020 election campaign. But it won’t rule on whether the ACA survives until after the Nov. 3 balloting—and that pisses off ACA backers no end.

But in the meantime, those supporters, including Teachers President Randi Weingarten, top congressional Democrats, and leading progressive and health care organizations, will make political hay out of how the ACA got into this mess.

In a few short words, the justices on March 2 took the combined two cases where Texas and other GOP-run red states challenge the act’s constitutionality—and thus whether it should stay, helping tens of millions of people, or die, harming them—and will probably hear oral arguments on the case before the election, in its 2020-21 term.

The court cases, California vs. Texas and U.S. House of Representatives vs. Texas, are part of the GOP’s continuing war against the ACA. Texas is leading the states that want to kill it. California, and the House Democratic majority, want to keep it.

The ACA cases are among the first the justices decided to hear next term, which starts the first Monday of this October. But since the court’s term runs through the end of June 2021, it’s a virtual foregone conclusion there will be no ruling before voters go to the polls this fall.

The GOP Trump regime sided with the red states, and against the ACA, too. That led congressional Democrats and blue-state attorneys general, led by California’s Xavier Becerra, to jump to the ACA’s defense. GOP-named lower court judges sided with the red states.

But the timing of the hearing and, more importantly, the decision on the ACA’s fate, gets Weingarten and the others mad. Trump even wanted the court to hold the hearing—the court’s oral argument—after the election, but the justices rejected that scheme. Before that, the court majority previously rejected a joint Democratic-union attempt to have the oral argument and decision in the current term.

That rejection won’t stop Weingarten, whose union also includes school and hospital nurses, from telling voters who’re responsible for this mess.

“That yet another challenge to the ACA has been brought by President Trump and Republican governors to the Supreme Court demonstrates their continued callous disregard to the healthcare needs of Americans. This is a ‘Which side are you on?’ moment,” she said.

“The Republican Party wants to deny coverage for anyone with a pre-existing condition,” she noted.  Trump has repeatedly promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions, an ACA section with 70% public support. But he and his party listen to the insurance lobby and haven’t even come up with a skeleton of a plan to do so. When they ran Congress, House Republicans voted 62 times to repeal the ACA—with nothing to replace it.

Those repeal attempts and continuing administration sabotage, through rules and regulations banning advertising of ACA coverage, and disallowing it for some cases, have scared millions of people. But lobbying by citizens, workers, and unions has kept the law alive.

“Because the White House was unsuccessful in its attempt to repeal the ACA in Congress, it will use any means to destroy our country’s prevailing healthcare law,” said Weingarten. “Republicans have lied…about their strategy” to kill the ACA, referring to the Trump-GOP plan to delay the court’s oral arguments. “They know the public is against them.”

The court hearing, even without a ruling before the election, “offers an opportunity to stop this assault on the ACA, working people, and individuals with pre-existing conditions.”

Other ACA backers also pointed out the Republican responsibility for the peril the health care law faces.

“Our health care is on the ballot this November,” said Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, Planned Parenthood’s political arm. “Since day one, Trump and his buddies—like Sens. Martha McSally, Thom Tillis, and Cory Gardner—have made it their mission to put health care out of reach for as many people as possible,” she explained.

McSally of Arizona, Tillis of North Carolina, and Gardner of Colorado are considered the three most-vulnerable GOP senators facing the voters this fall.

“Because of Republican politicians, the Affordable Care Act could be gutted by the Supreme Court. If they are successful, protections for people with pre-existing conditions, health coverage for millions, and no-copay birth control could all go down the drain. They’re playing political games with real people’s lives.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., denounced the “partisan lawsuit led by the Trump administration and Republicans to strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, including protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. After failing previously to undo the law in the courts and repeal the law when they controlled all levers of government, President Trump and the GOP are continuing their assault on Americans’ health coverage.”

Then he ran the numbers if the GOP wins and the ACA dies: 20 million people lose health insurance coverage entirely, 130 million more with pre-existing conditions will be at great risk for denial of care or worse, Medicaid expansion will be revoked and the insurers will be able to jack up premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, increase their overhead, deny more care and have their execs pocket increasing profits.

“The impact would fall disproportionately on people of color, who already face unfair and discriminatory barriers to health care and coverage,” added Emily Stewart, executive director of Community Catalyst. “This is yet another effort” by Trump and the GOP “to pursue through the courts what they couldn’t accomplish in Congress. They failed because millions of people fought back to protect their care.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.