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If you believe good health care should be an American right, stand up again for Obamacare

We should never go back to the days when people lose their health insurance — or can’t get it — through no fault of their own.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

President-elect Joe Biden needs our help to create a better health care system.

As Illinoisans prepare to sign up for next year’s Affordable Care Act insurance by the Dec. 15 deadline, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday debated whether to throw out the 2010 law altogether. The contrast couldn’t have been clearer between the Trump administration and 18 Republican attorneys general, who want to deny millions of Americans health care, while Biden talked on the very same day about health care as a “human issue” that “affects every family.”

It will be a tough fight, but Biden is in the clear right. Our nation should never return to a day when people had their health insurance revoked just as they needed it, when some people were charged more in premiums than others for the same level of care and when a pre-existing condition sometimes meant you couldn’t get insurance at any price.

We should, in fact, restore access to health care to the millions of people who lost their insurance coverage as the Trump administration steadily chipped away at the ACA. We should, as Biden said, make Obamacare better.

Be heard

To succeed, Biden will need to ride a wave of strong public support, which is where all of us come in. We must make our voices heard. The past four years have shown that many Republicans will continue to oppose the ACA, no matter how cold-hearted, unless they find themselves up against even stronger political winds in favor of it.

Biden will need widespread and vociferous public support if certain reforms to Obamacare — to increase access and reduce unreasonable charges — are to get through the next Congress.

No matter how the runoff senatorial elections turn out in Georgia, neither party will have a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The Democratic House majority has shrunk, as well. It is because of the hard compromises that were necessary to pass the original bill, given a closely divided Congress, that Obamacare today is flawed in a number of widely criticized ways.

Hospitals, for example, are unfairly charged twice for re-admitting a patient during a short frame of time — seen as an indication of subpar care — even if the patient is admitted the second time for a problem entirely unrelated to the first problem. The first admission might be for a heart attack, while the second admission is for a broken leg, but the hospital must pay a kind of fine all the same.

Moreover, the cost of ACA insurance can be out of reach for people who don’t qualify for subsidies or tax credits.

No good alternative

Yet the Trump administration and 18 Republican attorneys general argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday that the law should be stricken off the books. With nothing to replace it.

The results could be catastrophic.

Some 20 million people would lose their health insurance in the middle of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 130 million Americans with pre-existing medical conditions — a number that is growing with the heart and lung maladies caused by COVID 19 — no longer would be assured access to insurance. Young people might no longer be allowed to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

The program’s Medicaid expansion, which makes health care affordable to the working poor, would end. And requirements that all insurance policies cover essential benefits, such as maternity care and emergency services, would go out the window.

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System relies on ACA payments to help pay for the care it delivers to anyone who walks through the door. Illinois, crushed under a COVID-19 budget crisis, does not have the resources to set up a replacement system should the court pull the plug on the ACA.

On Tuesday, at least five Supreme Court justices signaled that they are reluctant to strike down the entire ACA law just because the individual mandate — a requirement that every American must have health insurance or pay a fine — was zeroed out in 2017.

Back Biden on this one

Should the court, however, rule this spring or summer that the ACA as a whole cannot stand, the real danger is that any bill to revive or replace the law will never get out of a Senate committee. Not if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can help it — and he can.

Your job, if you believe as we do that health care should be an American right, is to send a message to McConnell. Make clear to him the political price that he and his party would pay.

As Biden said on Tuesday, this should not be a “partisan issue.” It’s a “human issue.”

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