Abolishing Obamacare would threaten even more lives during pandemic

With millions of Americans losing their employer-sponsored health insurance because of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump continues his onslaught against the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The president is doubling down on a Republican challenge to the ACA, with the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled to hear arguments in the coming months.

VOX — 15 charts that show how Obamacare works now — and how Republicans would overhaul it

As ill-considered and completely heartless as his decision is, it’s no surprise. This is the same president who four years ago promised us a “beautiful” alternative to the ACA. The Republican substitute he promoted over two years ago would have tossed 20 million Americans off their coverage and eliminated the most vital protection in the law — the one that prohibits health insurers from denying you coverage for a pre-existing medical condition.

And that was when the economy was in decent shape and few had ever heard about social distancing.

The current pandemic — If trends continue — could result in up to 43 million people losing their employer-sponsored insurance, according to an estimate by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Those looking for coverage are turning to the ACA, including many in our state.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange had a special enrollment period that began March 10 and ended May 8. About 16,000 more state residents took advantage to enroll in coverage in the individual market. Many will get subsidies to help pay monthly premiums.

This is the market where people who don’t have health insurance through an employer buy their own coverage.

We’re fortunate in Washington. Our exchange is not under federal control. Even with the pandemic raging, Trump denied special enrollment periods in other states where he wields power over them. The move stumped health insurers who urged additional time to accept more enrollment through the federal exchanges.

Trump’s latest decisions come at a time when more health insurance companies want to re-enter individual insurance markets across the country. Abolishing the ACA offers nothing but instability and a surge of uninsured people in every state.

The American Medical Association made that point strongly recently to the Supreme Court. The association said that:

“striking down the ACA at a time when the system is struggling to respond to a pandemic that has infected nearly 1.4 million Americans and killed nearly 80,000 at the time of this writing would be a self-inflicted wound that could take decades to heal.”

The president has again promised a better alternative — just as he did four years ago. But to date, he has proposed nothing.

Here are four positive actions Congress could take to provide coverage to more people:

  • Drop the challenge to the ACA. This will aid market stability and assure people they have a viable option for coverage.
  • Reinstate a federal reinsurance program to reduce the rise of health insurance premiums. The program in effect from 2014 through 2016 resulted in premiums that were 10% to 15% lower. A Republican-controlled Congress then scrapped the program.
  • Get the remaining 14 states to expand Medicaid coverage to help residents who lose employer-sponsored coverage. The states that denied expansion currently have the highest rates of uninsured.
  • Enhance subsidies to help more people to buy health insurance.

The ACA provides a safety net for many losing their jobs and health insurance. Certainly, the law is imperfect, but the actions taken over the last four years by the Trump administration have harmed the millions of Americans who rely on it.

Abolishing the law without a viable and better replacement is not just cruel, it could be a death sentence for many.

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