‘Obnoxious’ Texas case could cost thousands in Pa. their health insurance, Pa. Sen. Casey warns

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Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, many of them children, could lose their healthcare if a Republican-backed court challenge to the Affordable Care Act is successful, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and other advocates warned Tuesday as the warring sides squared off in federal appellate court.

“This is an effort by a corporate White House to do in the courts what they couldn’t do in the halls of Congress,” Casey, D-Pa., said in a conference call with home state reporters, adding that Republicans in Congress who back the litigation are “supporting an obnoxious lawsuit,” that “only a right-wing extremist could love.”

Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit were set to hear oral arguments Tuesday in the case, Texas v. Azar, which seeks to overturn the entire 2010 healthcare law, ThinkProgress reported. Last December, a U.S. District court judge in Texas sided with the 20 state attorneys general who brought the case, with the backing of the Trump administration, and ruled that the law should be struck down.

In that decision, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was unconstitutional because Congress had eliminated the so-called “individual mandate” in the law, requiring everyone who did not have health coverage to pay a fine, Vox reported Tuesday. According to Vox, legal experts on both sides of the issue expect the 5th Circuit to overturn O’Connor’s decision.

But because the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court is likely to have the final say in the lawsuit, Casey, and the head of the Pennsylvania Health Advocacy Network, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group, weren’t taking any chances, as they reeled off a mountain of data illustrating the damage that could be inflicted on Keystone State residents if the law is overturned finally.

All told, 857,000 Pennsylvanians, spread across all 18 of the state’s Congressional districts, would lose their coverage if the lawsuit is successful, according to data provided by the Center for American Progress.

Additionally, according to data compiled by the advocacy campaign Protect Our Care:

  • “89,000 Pennsylvania young adults with their parents’ coverage could lose care. Because of the Affordable Care
    Act, millions of young adults are able to stay on their parents’ care until age 26.
  • “A full repeal of the ACA would reduce federal spending on Pennsylvanians’ Medicaid/CHIP care and Marketplace subsidies by $5.1 billion, or 32 percent, in the first year.
  • “6.1 million state residents could once again be required to pay for such preventive care as flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception and mammograms
  • “Some 275,604 senior citizens would have to pay more for prescription medication because the so-called Medicare ‘donut hole’ would be reopened. From 2010 to 2016, Pennsylvania seniors have saved an average of $1,137 each on drug costs, according to a January 2017 report by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services.”
  • Some 700,000 Pennsylvanians who have benefited as a result of the Medicaid expansion authorized by the law stand to lose coverage as well.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who is not is participating in the litigation, told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh late last year that he planned to continue enforcing the healthcare law for as long as it was on the books.

“Pennsylvanians should be assured that I will continue to enforce the ACA’s vital protections for individuals with preexisting conditions,” Shapiro said in a statement at the time. “Because Pennsylvania chose not to be a party to this lawsuit, we are not bound by this decision, and I will not let one misguided judge in Texas prevent us from protecting the residents of the Commonwealth.”

Nationwide, meanwhile, the ranks of the uninsured would increase by nearly 20 million, or 65 percent, according to data compiled by the Urban Institute, while federal spending on healthcare would drop by nearly $135 billion in 2019. Additionally, state spending on Medicaid/CHIP would drop by $9.6 billion, a 6 percent decrease compared to ACA-level spending, the Urban Institute study concluded. And demand for uncompensated care at hospitals nationwide would increase by 82 percent to $50.2 billion.

On Tuesday, two Pennsylvanians who benefited from the healthcare law each said they were “terrified” by the prospect of its repeal.

Matt Stefanelli, a psychotherapist from Scranton, who was diagnosed with asthma at age 5, said he and his wife would be “unable to afford medical care if we went back to where we were before the ACA was passed.” He added that, because of the high cost of care, he had been unable to leave his previous job to build his own private practice until the law went on the books nine years ago.

Janice Nathan, a speech-language pathologist from Pittsburgh, said she underwent a kidney transplant 18 years ago. Without the law’s ban on denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions, she, too, would be unable to afford coverage on her own.

“I’ve been on Obamacare since its inception,” she said. “The morning [the law] was enacted, I started sobbing. From that second on, I never had to worry about losing health insurance because of my preexisting condition.”

Despite Republican criticisms of the healthcare law, and accusations that it has failed, Casey accused the Trump White House and its GOP allies on Capitol Hill of trying to “rip away” coverage without having a back-up plan to replace the law.

“They never had a back-up plan,” Casey argued. “They don’t seem to give a damn if this coverage is ripped away.”

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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