This op-ed first appeared in Ms. Magazine.
President Donald Trump does not want you to have access to affordable high-quality health care.
That’s not exactly a revelation, but the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the importance of access to health care into sharp relief. The Trump administration has not only failed to respond to the resurgent threat of COVID-19, but has instead spent the past few months trying to eliminate the law that has been a vital lifeline to millions of Americans’ ability to access health care. It’s no wonder Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently described this response as “an act of unfathomable cruelty.”
You may recall that early in the Trump administration, Republican lawmakers attempted to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Their “repeal and replace” plan lacked any actual “replace” plan, and despite controlling both the House and Senate, they failed thanks to Sen. John McCain’s iconic thumbs down vote. But when they couldn’t repeal the ACA legislatively, they instead focused their efforts on the courts.
Senate Republicans have now confirmed 200 of Trump’s judges to lifetime seats on the federal bench—many of whom, like Brett Kavanaugh, fulfill Trump’s promise to nominate judges who would rule against the ACA.
The two most recent circuit court judges, Justin Walker and Cory Wilson, were nominated just as many of us were beginning to social distance. Walker called the Supreme Court’s upholding of the ACA “indefensible” and praised Kavanaugh for laying out a roadmap to overturn it. Wilson called the ACA “illegitimate” and “perverse,” directly calling on the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional.
Despite the risks to their colleagues and their staffs, Senate Republicans held hearings to advance and confirm their nominations—while responses to the pandemic, the economic fallout, police brutality and racial injustice took a backseat.
In late June, a lawsuit challenging the ACA once again arrived at the Supreme Court’s door—in part thanks to another Trump appointee, Kurt Engelhardt, who kept the lawsuit alive.
The Trump administration is doing everything it can to support this lawsuit’s attack on the law. It relies on a legal theory even conservative scholars agree is far-fetched that would require the entire law to be thrown out. “The entire ACA thus must fall,” the Trump administration insisted in its June 25th brief.
he consequences of such an outcome would be devastating. More than 20 million people would lose health care coverage without the ACA. The law also protects over 130 million people with preexisting conditions, a number sure to rise if COVID-19 is treated as a preexisting condition. Despite Trump’s repeated claims to support people with preexisting conditions, his administration made no attempt to salvage those protections.
Losing the ACA would also be catastrophic for the many people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic—and their health care along with it.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who voted to repeal the ACA 20 times (including the final attempt in 2017), was even forced to admit that the law ensured that those who lost their jobs could still access health care coverage.
Gone too would be the protections so many women depend upon for their health care. The ACA contains important nondiscrimination protections to ensure women aren’t charged more for health care on the basis of their gender. The law also guarantees they can access preventive services at no cost, including annual mammograms, pap smears, well-woman visits and more. Trump has no plan to ensure women’s health if those protections go away.
Even now, the Trump administration has used its regulatory power to allow insurance companies to resume issuing predatory short-term plans. Advertised as cheaper than ACA-compliant plans, they do not have to cover preexisting conditions nor protect patients from major medical bills.
For all these reasons, Alliance for Justice is working through our Building the Bench initiative to identify fair and independent judges who will uphold the ACA’s vital health care protections and rein in the president’s abuses of executive power. With Trump’s judges now occupying nearly a quarter of all federal judgeships, the fight to protect our access to health care will last for years to come.
We’re facing a health care crisis with over 130,000 dead and hospitals overwhelmed from new spikes across the country. Trump and his Republican allies have stared this calamity in the face and simply proceeded on their quest to take health care away from millions.
“Unfathomable cruelty” is somehow still an understatement.