Despite President Trump's claims that coronavirus is "dying out," cases are surging across the country. Just two days ago, the United States set a record for daily new cases of the virus. But instead of prioritizing health care access, the Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to get rid of Obamacare. The administration's request comes in the middle of a once-in-a-generation health crisis, and amid rising unemployment in a country where a person's job is often their source of health insurance.
Late Thursday night, the Trump administration filed a brief requesting the Supreme Court revisit the Affordable Care Act (or, Obamacare). The brief hinges on the notion that the entire ACA is illegal because in 2017, Congress got rid of the individual tax penalty for those who failed to purchase medical insurance.
In the brief, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the government's chief advocate before the Supreme Court, argued that "the individual mandate cannot be severed from the remainder of the ACA" and so "the entire ACA must fall."
The brief also includes a section essentially arguing that the ACA's rules forbidding insurers from turning away those with pre-existing conditions must be overturned, too. This is the same rule that also says insurers can't charge people more due to factors like age and gender. As noted by NBC News, this section of the brief contradicts Trump's claims that he will protect people with pre-existing conditions.
This isn't the first time that the ACA has been brought to the Supreme Court. The whole argument over the ACA began with a lawsuit brought by 20 states, led by Texas, who wanted the law to be scrapped. Seventeen states, led by California, opposed and wanted to keep the ACA in place.
NPR reported that the lawsuit was heard in Texas for the first time in 2018. There, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor said the law was unconstitutional, but there's been a lot of back and forth ever since. Over time, the Trump administration has adopted a clear stance against the ACA in its entirety. In 2017, Trump tried to overturn Obamacare with the American Health Care Act, but the Republican health care law failed in the GOP-controlled Senate.
"President Trump, in this cruel lawsuit, has shown us who he really is," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote on Twitter. "We intend to win this fight with the facts, law, and American people on our side."
The Trump administration's decision to go after the ACA in the middle of a pandemic is malicious. Right now, the U.S. has over 2.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases, and nearly 125,000 deaths. The pandemic has made abundantly clear just how fractured health care is in the U.S.
Lack of access to health care before the pandemic greatly contributed to coronavirus's devastating impacts on communities of color. Already, Black people are more likely to be uninsured, and, Mother Jones reported, have pre-existing conditions like heart disease, asthma, cancer, and others that would make coronavirus more deadly should they contract it. And this isn't because Black people are just naturally predisposed to being sick — it's about systemic factors that have led to certain health problems cropping up in Black neighborhoods.
"It’s because of straightforward social choices such as where toxic dumps get sited, where new highways get built, and where Black people have historically been permitted to live," Mother Jones reporter Edwin Rios wrote. And now, data shows that Black people are more likely to say a family member or close friend has died of coronavirus or respiratory illness since March.
Because of the ACA, over 20 million people have gained health insurance. This year alone, nearly half a million people turned to the Obamacare exchanges after losing coverage because they lost their jobs. With millions expected to face an "income cliff" next month and unemployment still high, programs like the ACA are desperately needed.
“President Trump and the Republicans’ campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Pelosi added: “If President Trump gets his way, 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose the ACA’s lifesaving protections and 23 million Americans will lose their health coverage entirely."
If the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA like the Trump administration wants, it will have huge implications. The pandemic is not over. Coronavirus survivors are coming out of hospitals with huge bills. In Seattle, Michael Flor, the longest-hospitalized coronavirus patient, left the hospital with a $1.1 million tab that runs 181 pages. Even before the pandemic, most Americans said they would not be able to cover a $400 emergency, and many are more financially unstable now than they were three months ago.
Critics have noted that Obamacare has risen in popularity — often even Republicans support what's in the law if they are asked about it without using the former president's name — so calling for an end to the law is a curious choice for Trump just months away from the election. But the reality is that without health care in the middle of a pandemic, people may not make it to the election. Going after health care has immediate and deadly consequences for some of the nation's most vulnerable people, and that is the top priority, whether or not there are votes at stake.