Activists: On ACA’s 10th anniversary, pandemic shows its importance

    Protesters demonstrate in support of the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by LaDawna's pics, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

    On the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act — and in the shadow of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic — activists held a series of telephone press briefings on Monday to criticize Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration for seeking to undermine the landmark health care legislation.

    The briefings all advanced a series of common themes:

    • that the ACA had expanded the reach of affordable and comprehensive health insurance as well as broadening access to Medicaid;
    • that it had installed protections enabling people with preexisting conditions to obtain health insurance, abolished insurance discrimination against women and enabled young people who weren’t otherwise covered to remain on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26;
    • that while Republicans had failed to repeal the ACA when they controlled Congress, the Trump administration has been steadily undermining it through a combination of administrative rule changes and defunding critical elements of the program that helped ensure more people enrolled;
    • that the law itself and its protections remain under threat from a lawsuit supported by the Trump administration claiming the law is unconstitutional — and which could lead to ruling by a conservative majority U.S. Supreme Court that could throw the entire law out;
    • and that the spiraling coronavirus pandemic only emphasizes the necessity of the law to ensure that people don’t die for lack of health coverage.

    The lawsuit “could strike down all of the benefits that people have received over the past 10 years,” said Kathleen Sibelius, Health and Human Services secretary in Barack Obama’s administration, in a national briefing organized by Protect Our Care, an organization rallying support for the ACA.

    “That suit needs to be ended,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul during a media call sponsored by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

    A third call was organized by Priorities Wisconsin, the state branch of Priorities USA, a progressive voter mobilization group. On that call, Steve Ohly, manager of free clinics in Milwaukee for the uninsured, said that since the ACA took effect, clinics have seen their caseloads go down.

    “We lost them to the security and empowerment of health insurance,” Ohly said. Free clinics, he added, “want to be out of a job” as the only resource for people lacking insurance. “But if the lawsuit that the Trump administration champions causes the ACA to be made void, the opposite will happen. Instead of making progress toward full coverage, we will regress as a society, and the ranks of the uninsured will grow again. We can’t let that happen.”

    All three calls included criticism of the Trump administration’s allowance for so-called “junk-insurance” plans with skimpier coverage than was originally permitted under the ACA. 

    And both Wisconsin calls pointed to the refusal of the state Legislature’s Republican majority to expand Medicaid as provided for under the ACA, despite Gov. Tony Evers’ efforts to do so in his first state budget and later through stand-alone legislation.

    “Americans’ health should not be a partisan issue — but it is,” retired Madison physician Dr. Timothy Harrington said during the Democratic Party of Wisconsin call. And now, he said, “the coronavirus pandemic is rapidly exposing the failures of Republicans’ health care policies and preparedness.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.