Wisconsin joins brief to support Affordable Care Act before Supreme Court

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

    Wisconsin once helped lead a lawsuit to throw out the Affordable Care Act, but on Thursday the state Department of Justice announced it was joining a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to keep the law intact.

    Attorney General Josh Kaul
    Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

    “This effort to take down the Affordable Care Act threatens to cause severe damage to public health and to undermine Wisconsinites’ financial security at a time when we should be acting to strengthen protections for both,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul at an online news conference organized by the ACA advocacy group Protect Our Care. “This case was wrong from the start, but it’s especially misguided during a pandemic.”

    Kaul is joining attorneys general for the states of Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Pennsylvania in filing the brief in the case of California et al vs. Texas et al. The lawsuit, brought by the state of Texas and backed by the Trump administration, seeks the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law under President Barack Obama. 

    The law has survived previous Supreme Court challenges, but also been weakened by executive orders under president Donald Trump as well as legislation passed when Republicans held majorities in both houses of Congress.

    Under former Gov. Scott Walker and former Attorney General Brad Schimel, Wisconsin along with Texas was among the states suing to end the ACA, claiming it was unconstitutional. In the 2018 state elections, both Kaul, running against Schimel, and Tony Evers, running against Walker, made healthcare an issue in their campaigns. “One of the biggest issues in the race was Wisconsin’s decision to have led and joined this lawsuit,” Kaul said Thursday.

    After Evers and Kaul won their elections but before they took office, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Republican leadership passed and Walker signed legislation in a lame duck session that included a provision that would have blocked Kaul from dropping the lawsuit. When the legislation was briefly thrown out by a lower court ruling, Kaul withdrew the state from the ACA lawsuit before the state Supreme Court’s conservative majority reinstated the lame duck provisions.

    Among the protections in the ACA threatened by the lawsuit is the healthcare law’s requirement that health insurers cannot discriminate against patients for preexisting conditions. “These decisions are harming the lives of real people,” said Kaul, who also urged the Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature to reverse their opposition to expanding Medicaid with federal help as provided for in the ACA.  

    Zena Blom, a resident of rural southeastern Wisconsin, said that the ACA helped her get insurance when a major illness forced her to quit her job in 2016 and her husband was subsequently laid off, leaving them uninsured. An insurance plan purchased on the ACA’s health insurance exchange enabled her to get needed medication, and the protection for her preexisting condition made it possible for her to get insurance in the first place.

    “My condition definitely would have been a reason to turn me down,” said Blom. She added that if she could she would ask the Trump administration and lawmakers opposed to the ACA “why don’t they care about their fellow Americans that are suffering?”

    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.