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As the COVID-19 crisis continues in Maine and across the country, the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers are continuing their efforts to take accessible health care coverage from over 20 million Americans, including 83,000 Mainers.
Democratic attorneys general and the U.S. House of Representatives have filed their opening briefs to the Supreme Court in Texas v. United States, the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. As the case is heard by the highest court, the Trump administration will argue in support of stripping away health care from some of the most vulnerable Americans in the middle of a devastating public health crisis.
This week’s activities mark the beginning of a critical phase in the fight to protect Americans as the nation grapples with an unprecedented public health disaster that the Trump administration continues to make worse. Trump and his allies will make absurd arguments to justify ripping health care from 20 million people throughout these proceedings while the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic surges, and untold effects of the illness rage on.
This administration and Republican lawmakers have worked relentlessly to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act dozens of times despite data showing that the ACA has helped over 20 million Americans, including 83,000 Mainers. When attempts to sabotage and undermine the law failed, the president and Republican attorneys general turned to the courts — strategically filing the case at federal courts dominated by Republican-appointed, anti-ACA judges.
The fate of health care coverage for over 20 million Americans as well as protections for 135 million people with pre-existing conditions — the ones most at risk of contracting COVID-19 — is at stake. In Maine, over half a million people have pre-existing conditions, including over 60,000 Maine children, 261,000 Maine women, and 156,400 Mainers between ages 55 and 64.
The Trump administration is likely to argue to strip away care and allow insurance companies to deny treatment or charge more for coverage. These arguments are indefensible and cruel — even absent a global pandemic.
If the COVID-19 public health crisis has shown us anything, it is that health care in our country is not working for everyone. One only needs to look at the geographic, racial, and economic disparities in the outcome of COVID-19 cases to see that health care remains a privilege granted to some but not all. Poor people and vulnerable populations often determined by the color of one’s skin are left out. They are left unprotected. They die more frequently.
Add to that the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and the health insurance that came with those jobs and this crisis is only going to get worse. A report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimated that between 72,000 and 221,000 Maine people could lose employer-provided health insurance due to the pandemic. We need the ACA now more than ever.
Americans’ access to affordable health care has never been more critical, and Republicans’ attacks on the Affordable Care Act leave Mainers vulnerable to losing health care coverage at a critical time when millions of Americans are filing for unemployment.
President Donald Trump and his administration should be spending their time taking aggressive action to protect all Americans through measures like fully expanding Medicaid, opening a special enrollment period for the uninsured, or increasing financial assistance for people struggling to pay for insurance. Instead, they are arguing before the Supreme Court that essential health care coverage should be ripped from 20 million Americans, and key programs — like Medicaid expansion — should lose funding.
The Trump administration is making a tired, partisan, and nearly decade-long argument that, in the middle of a national crisis, would threaten the lives of even more innocent people. Republicans should drop this lawsuit and focus on protecting Mainers and all Americans when they need it the most. Will COVID-19 be the newest pre-existing condition to be excluded from health insurance protection? We need the ACA now more than ever. The Trump administration’s relentless pursuit to hobble it is shameful.
Thom Harnett of Gardiner represents District 83 in the Maine House of Representatives.
Watch: State labor commissioner speaks to unemployed Mainers