Washington, DC – The next three weeks will be critical for the American people. Amid a global pandemic, a historic presidential election, and the attempt to fill an equally historic Supreme Court vacancy, there’s a lot at stake for health care. On October 26, the Senate will vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court. On November 10, merely a week following the presidential election, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hear arguments in the case of California v. Texas, the latest challenge to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly called Obamacare.
The rush to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat on the Court on the eve of this election has worried health advocates and consumers alike, as a conservative majority court could potentially overturn the ACA. Conservatives have been hostile to the law, and Coney Barrett, herself an arch-conservative, seems to share that very hostility toward the ACA. This is illustrated by her disapproval of Justice John Roberts Jr.’s support of the ACA in a 2017 essay. In it, Coney Barrett wrote that Justice Roberts had “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”
In 2017, the strife between Democrats and conservatives worsened when the individual mandate provision of the ACA was found unconstitutional. Following that ruling, conservatives have tried to grasp at opportunities to repeal the entire law, including arguing for severability. Severability of the individual mandate provision, as explained by Justice Roberts, would allow the Court to excise the provision with “a scalpel rather than a bulldozer.” Severability would still maintain the ACA as the law of the land and would save access to healthcare for over 20 million Americans. But the plaintiffs, all Republican Attorneys General from across the country, have argued that the individual mandate cannot be severed and if it goes down, the whole law falls.
Although Coney Barrett was reticent during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, her record serves as a warning about how she will come down on a host of consumer health issues. These include reproductive decisions granting women agency over their bodies and the freedom to choose how they form families. Based on her prior endorsement of the anti-choice organization Right to Life and her public support of overturning Roe v Wade, there is cause for concern that medical interventions like contraception, abortion, and even in-vitro fertilization (IVF), could all be at risk following Judge Barrett’s appointment to the high court.
Aside from reproductive issues, there are countless health care protections on the chopping block pursuant to the ACA deliberation. Below are a few at risk if the ACA is overturned:
- Protections for 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions
- Medicaid expansion, which currently insures over 15 million people
- Prescription drug affordability for over 12 million older Americans
- Coverage for adult children covered under their parents’ insurance up to age 26
- Bans on lifetime and annual insurance caps on coverage
- Essential Health Benefits
- Access to preventive care services without cost-sharing
- Protections from discrimination in health care settings for LGBTQ+ people
The stakes are high. If the ACA is overturned, COVID-19 could be considered to be a pre-existing condition. The pandemic has laid bare deep structural inequities; stripping away coverage during such dire times would be unconscionable.
There are a few ways the Supreme Court could rule on the case come November 10.
- If Coney Barrett is not sworn in before the oral argument, the Court could vote on the case with an 8-member court, leading to a potential tie. If tied, the case would be returned to the original trial judge for further analysis – meaning that in the interim, the ACA would remain the law of the land, ensuring protections for millions.
- The Court may still rule in favor of salvaging the ACA. Many scholars deem the plaintiffs’ arguments to be legally weak. This is where the argument of severability comes in.
- Finally, if a new justice is appointed to the Court and there is a majority vote to overturn the ACA, it may be overturned. The ACA is an extraordinarily complex and comprehensive law, and this result would wreak havoc across virtually every area of health policy.
Over the next few weeks, the health and civil liberties of millions of Americans will hang in the balance. NCL does not support Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. Justice Ginsburg was a champion of rights and protections for consumers and women and a strong defender of the ACA. Confirming a justice for the Supreme Court with Coney Barrett’s record before the election has the potential to endanger lives already vulnerable during this pandemic. We simply cannot afford to throw consumers’ health care into such chaos and uncertainly during this COVID-19 pandemic.
About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.