By Christen Woods
This past Tuesday, Nov. 10 was the day that millions of Americans could have lost their health insurance upending our healthcare system in the middle of a pandemic. That was the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case known as California v. Texas (formerly Texas v. the United States), that will decide the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Currently, it seems as if the ACA has survived yet another attempt to dismantle it. Five justices, including two members of its conservative majority, seem to agree that even though Congress stuck down the individual mandate in 2017, it did not require the rest of the law to be struck down as well. However, a ruling is not expected until June.
I have the honor and privilege of leading District 1199C, a group of healthcare and hospital workers who have been putting their lives on the line every day of this pandemic. We know firsthand that the (ACA) is vital to this nation and must be preserved especially during a pandemic.
Unions cannot stand idly by and watch as others try to rip health insurance away from our members and the people and communities they serve.
If the ACA were to be overturned in June, we must look to our state Legislature for protection. I call on state lawmakers to pass a series of bills called “Healthy People, Stronger Economy” from Health Committee Chair Representative Dan Frankel and House Democrats to protect all Pennsylvanians in case the ACA is overturned.
The “Healthy People, Strong Economy” package of bills would:
1) Rep. Peter Schweyer’s HB1013 requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions;
2)Representative Anthony DeLuca’s HB469 mandates coverage for “essential health benefits” like maternity care and emergency services;
3) end lifetime limits on coverage; and
4) Representatives Mark Longietti’s HB913 allows adults to keep dependents on a policy until age 26.
The dangers of repealing Obamacare have been duly noted, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.
But those dangers become heightened several times over when you factor in a global pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives and millions worldwide. To strip healthcare protections in such a tenuous environment is seemingly unthinkable, yet it is something we have to worry about every single day.
Another lifesaving aspect of the ACA was Medicaid expansion. Nationwide, Medicaid expansion has helped over 13 million people.
In Pennsylvania, the Medicaid expansion has helped more than 800,000 residents access health insurance, including 2 in 5 individuals with disabilities, 2 in 3 nursing home residents, and 1 in 3 children. A repeal of the ACA would be catastrophic: 5 million or more Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions would see increased premiums, and cuts to Medicaid would see several hundred thousand senior citizens and others paying more for vital prescription medications.
The impact of Obamacare on racial health disparities has also been notable. Before 2013, Black adults experienced a nearly 10 percent deficit in healthcare coverage compared to white adults.
By 2018, the health insurance gap had narrowed by more than 4 points to 5.8 percent. The Hispanic community also benefited greatly. In five years, the insurance gap between whites and Hispanics went from 25.7 points to 16.3.
In Pennsylvania, the uninsured rate gap between white and Black adults now is under four percentage points. As more individuals gain coverage, they are more likely to see a doctor and not be deterred due to cost. Black and Hispanic adults reported the greatest reduction in cost-related barriers to care.
At District 1199C, many of our union members are people of color, especially in Philadelphia — a majority-POC city with historically high poverty rates. Many rely on the ACA and/or Medicaid to access health coverage.
Many of them have pre-existing conditions or have family members who do.
This is not unique to our union, either — our brothers and sisters at SEIU Healthcare, PASNAP, and other unions are in the same boat.
Our members also work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, serving many of those residents who rely on the ACA to keep them insured and as healthy as possible.
A partial or total repeal would be devastating on multiple fronts.
It impacts members of unions who rely on the coverage of pre-existing conditions, the Medicaid expansion, and other aspects to protect themselves and their families.
It impacts thousands of jobs — many members of 1199C work at safety-net hospitals and other facilities that may be forced into closing if this drastic shift in the healthcare system occurs.
It impacts the patients that our members serve, many of whom will be left out in the cold in a post-ACA world, no longer able to afford health coverage.
President-elect Joe Biden ran on expanding the ACA. The plan he put forward would cover 25 million uninsured Americans and offer a public option. Biden won the most votes in the history of the United States presidency. These results suggest that the American people do not want to see the government take away their healthcare.
Let’s make sure we are fighting for the ones who fight for us. Let’s make sure we are protecting our heroes as they protect us. It is quite literally a matter of life and death.
Christen Woods is the president of 1199c Hospital and Health Care Employees Union.