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Last week, America lost a giant. Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s unparalleled mind, unbending backbone and unfailing determination made her one of the country’s most powerful advocates for the words carved in stone on the Supreme Court building — Equal Justice Under Law.
As the nation mourned the loss of this legendary jurist and reflected on her immense contributions, some on Capitol Hill had a different response. Within hours of the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that he intends to process a new nominee for the seat as soon as possible — ignoring her final wish that her replacement not be appointed until after the November election.
The move prompted an immediate outcry, as critics (myself included) condemned the clear hypocrisy — see Garland, Merrick — and noted the newly found urgency from a Senate majority leader who’s dragged his feet on desperately needed coronavirus relief for months. Historically, this would be an unprecedented move to fill a Supreme Court vacancy so close to an election.
But what matters most to millions of Americans isn’t process or the power grab; it’s what happens if Trump and McConnell succeed. Because exactly one week from Election Day, the Trump administration will argue that the Supreme Court should completely eliminate the Affordable Care Act — and this nominee could be the swing vote.
When you understand the upcoming agenda for the Supreme Court, it becomes clear that this debate is less about fairness than it is a battle to determine if tens of millions of Americans will have their health care ripped away. What would that mean to you?
Existing health care plans obtained through the ACA marketplace would be ended — forcing millions to scramble to find new insurance during the pandemic. Over 11 million Americans are enrolled in coverage through ACA marketplaces — including more than 75,000 Mainers. If the Affordable Care Act is struck down, those plans will disappear overnight, leaving millions of insured Americans with no clear next step to protect themselves and their family during a global pandemic.
Medicaid expansions would be rolled back — including in Maine. Maine is one of 38 states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, extending coverage to nearly 62,000 of our citizens. This program is more important than ever, with more than 12 million Americans losing employer-sponsored insurance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Americans with preexisting conditions will lose vital health care protections. There are 225,000 Maine people under the age of 65 living with preexisting conditions — and before the ACA, insurance companies were legally allowed to deny them coverage or charge them exorbitant rates. While Maine wisely put in place important protections in case federal policies change, the far-reaching impacts of a negative Supreme Court decision could add unnecessary and expensive complications to the system that has demonstrated clear improvements and efficiencies in the last decade.
Oh — and one more thing — if these rules are repealed, having had coronavirus could become one of these preexisting conditions. Absurd, and unacceptable.
Those are the stakes — the possibility of a court ruling that will upend America’s health care system, during a global pandemic, without a backup plan. President Trump keeps telling us he has a better policy approach — but his position announced Thursday seems more a rebranding of the existing law than repealing it. More than a decade after the ACA was enacted into law, it is clear that the slogan of “repeal and replace” is just that: a slogan. After Trump has served for nearly a full term in the Oval Office, and following 10 years of hollow attempts to undo this law on Capitol Hill, there hasn’t been a clear alternative from the president or his allies. It seems they are content to simply let the country’s health care market plunge into chaos and let American families figure out what comes next by themselves.
The impacts of this appointment will be felt for generations to come, not only in terms of health care but on the subjects of environmental protections and reproductive rights and civil rights and much, much more. Early voting has already begun, which means the election is not approaching — it is already happening, and it is vital that my Republican colleagues allow the electoral process to play out rather than jamming through a premature nomination. Each of us — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — were elected to listen to the will of the people. Now, it is critical that we pause this nomination, and let their voices be heard.
Angus King represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.