Democratic Governors Go On Offensive Over Health Care Access

July 26, 2019 by Dan McCue

Clearly concerned about what will happen if a federal appeals court upholds a lower court ruling overturning the Affordable Care Act, Democrats at the National Governors Association summer meeting said Thursday that rolling back the health care law would be devastating to families that depend on it.

The health insurance of an estimated 20 million Americans currently hangs in the balance as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers whether it agrees with a federal judge in Texas who declared President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement unconstitutional in December.

In his ruling, U.S. Judge Reed O’Connor, presiding in Fort Worth, said that the individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power.”

As a result, O’Connor said, all of the remaining provisions of the Affordable Care Act are also invalid.

The controversy stems from the 2017 Republican tax bill, which reduced the penalty for not getting health insurance — the mandate — down to zero.

That led 20 states, led by Texas, to sue, arguing that with the penalty slashed to nothing, the individual mandate had become unconstitutional, and that the rest of the law could not stand without it.

While the case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final determination, things have changed significantly since the high court last considered the validity of the individual mandate in 2012.

Seven years ago the justices upheld the mandate, ruling Congress had the legal authority to impose a tax penalty on people who do not have health insurance.

During a news conference at the Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel Thursday afternoon, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the Trump administration — long stymied in its bid to undo the Affordable Care Act — “is doubling down” on the 5th Circuit case “and has no plan in place” to deal with the ramifications of the law being struck down.

‘These guys are hellbent on rolling that back and creating chaos,” Newsom said.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak was no less concerned. He said he planned to ask his recently created Patient Protection Commission to come up with recommendations for how to keep people insured if the Affordable Care Act is suddenly gone.

“To rip that away from them would be devastating to a lot of families,” he said.

Earlier this year, fearing an unfortunate outcome in the appeals court, Sisolak signed a bill prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage to patients due to pre-existing conditions, a pre-emptive move in case the Affordable Care Act were struck down.

Maine Governor Janet Mills said she did the same — the very first time she sat down at her desk in January.

“I signed executive order number one so that whatever the federal government does, and whatever the courts do, the protections of the Affordable Care Act will be in place under state law,” she said.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said that at a time when Republicans on the state and federal level are working “to take away health care from hardworking families,” she and her fellow Democratic governors have been united in working to expand access to care.”

 “With states that have Democratic governors, more than 2,500 health care bills have been enacted just since the first of the year,” she noted.

“I know that everyone who was standing up here with me today is absolutely committed to making sure that hard working families can get the healthcare that they need,” Whitmer said. “Maybe most importantly, we are committed to protecting coverage for preexisting conditions from the attacks from Republicans and Congress and the Trump administration. The work that our governors are doing couldn’t be more urgent.”

Returning to the microphone in response to a reporter’s question, Nevada’s Sisolak said he feels strongly that health care should not be a partisan issue.

“Healthcare is about taking care of patients that need care and that need health care coverage,” he said. “If they make it a partisan issue, that’s unfortunate. But we’re in favor of protecting patients.”

Other governors participating in the news conference were Jared Polis, of Colorado; Michelle Lujan Grisham, of New Mexico; Kate Brown, of Oregon; and Tony Evers, of Wisconsin. 

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