ST. PAUL — With the fate of millions of Americans' health care in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court as the country continues to battle a pandemic, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and others are urging the now-conservative body to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
In a Monday, Nov. 9, virtual news conference with law experts and health care advocates ahead of the case's oral arguments slated for Tuesday, Ellison reiterated his support for the landmark health care bill, which he voted for as a congressman in 2010. At the time, he said he didn't think it was "perfect" — he wanted to see a public option — "but when the moment came to vote for it, I voted for it and I voted for it enthusiastically (...) because It was the right thing to do."
"I voted for it because I believe that people should be able to focus on their health, not their economic viability when they get sick," he said. "They should try to get well, not avoid bankruptcy, as so many Americans have to deal with that reality."
Since that vote in 2010, Ellison said he voted over 70 times against Republicans' attempts to "rip it down," then as Minnesota Attorney General, defend the law in court.
In January, Ellison joined 19 states, the District of Columbia and the governor of Kentucky in petitioning SCOTUS to uphold the ACA and reconsider the decision of a lower court, which ruled the ACA's individual mandate unconstitutional and left the entire law in question. The SCOTUS is set to hear oral arguments for the case on Tuesday and issue a ruling by the end of June.
With the recent confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, conservatives now hold a 6-3 majority on the bench and President Donald Trump's Dept. of Justice is urging the court to fulfill Trump's goal to strike the law down. Should the entirety of the ACA be eliminated, more than 20 million Americans would lose their health insurance coverage.
Ellison and others on the call said the decision bears even more weight now as the country continues to writhe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, nearly 240,000 Americans have died of the novel virus. Even for survivors of COVID-19, Ellison and others on the call said a past diagnosis could be considered a preexisting condition, for which they would currently have protection under the ACA.
Andy Slavitt, who directed Medicare and Medicaid services under former-President Barack Obama's administration, said eliminating protections for those with preexisting conditions would be detrimental in the middle of a pandemic. He implored the justices to "take real stock of the dramatic impact it would have on the country."
"We’re also not going to be able to manage this pandemic very well (if the ACA is struck down) because we’ll move back to the days when people won't want to disclose their illnesses," he said. "So imagine doing contact tracing. Imagine having people agree to do diagnostic testing, which is what you need in a pandemic to control it, if their illnesses are going to be disclosed."
Slavitt added that "there is no Plan B" should the court strike down the law. Congress has yet to agree upon any replacement health care plan besides the ACA.
Ellison added that in last week's presidential election, "the American people voted to keep and build on the ACA" in electing projected President-elect Joe Biden.
"As much as they voted for a man named Joe and woman named Kamala (Harris), they voted for the preservation of their health care. That is important," Ellison said. "I hope the court takes that into consideration when they deliberate on this case, the will of the people."