Less than a week after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, her vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court has set up what is sure to be a contentious battle among legislators on how to proceed.
However uncertain that process may be, the court is still set to hear arguments beginning a week after the presidential election for a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Connecticut supporters of the federal law had a clear message for Ginsburg’s successor:
“Do not ruin her legacy by casting a vote to take away a right that thousands upon thousands of people are literally depending on at this moment,” Rep. Sean Scanlon said Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol in Hartford.
Scanlon, a Democrat who represents Branford and Guilford, warned along with other Connecticut legislators, health care advocates and physicians that there’s an increased possibility that the ACA could be dismantled should a conservative justice take Ginsburg’s seat on the court.
They said this is especially distressing given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic -- more than 56,000 people in Connecticut have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday afternoon.
Ginsburg and other liberal justices had defended the federal law, but the court’s makeup will likely look different come Nov. 10 when the justices take on California v. Texas -- a coalition of Republican state attorneys general will seek to invalidate the ACA while a group of Democratic state attorneys general will work to defend it.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said he believes it’s inevitable that the federal health care law will be overturned if a Republican-majority Senate votes to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee.
That outcome would affect an estimated 200,000 Connecticut residents.
“Donald Trump has been clear. He is only going to put people on the court who are going to overturn the Affordable Care Act,” Murphy said. “Republicans are rushing through this nominee, declaring their support before they even know who it is, because they want to make sure they have a 5-4, 6-3 decision on that November case to overturn the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.”
Many legal scholars say it’s unlikely that a ruling would invalidate the entire health care law, but rather specific parts. However, it’s still a possibility.
About 20 million Americans who get insurance through the ACA and its Medicaid expansion could be among the first to lose health care coverage. Access Health CT is Connecticut’s ACA exchange.
“And then it will disproportionately be communities of color, lower-income folks, people who don’t have access to health care through their employers,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, Deputy Majority Leader of the state Senate.
Millions of others, including those with private insurance offered by employers, could lose other benefits currently guaranteed under the ACA. The federal law allows coverage of dependents up to 26 years old, places lifetime caps on out-of-pocket costs, and requires coverage for preventive services.
Jessica Ciparelli, who lives in South Windsor and works for the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, said she doesn’t have to worry right now about the cost factors when getting something like a mammogram.
“As the daughter of a breast cancer warrior who succumbed to metastatic breast cancer three and a half years ago, those screenings are very important to me,” she said.
The ACA also prohibits insurance discrimination for preexisting conditions. Before the federal law was enacted, Ruchi Sheth of Meriden said the insurance premiums alone for her father, who had been diagnosed with diabetes, were extremely high and made coverage unaffordable for her family.
Some Democratic legislators are suggesting that COVID-19 could also be considered a preexisting condition.
“If this right-wing justice gets appointed to the court, and the ACA is overturned, everybody in this country who has COVID or ever tests positive for the antibodies is going to have their insurance rates jacked up through the roof,” Murphy said.
Dr. Benjamin Cherry, a physician in West Haven and health and public policy chair for the Connecticut chapter of the American College of Physicians, said it’s “remarkable” that people feel they must rally to the defense of the ACA in the midst of the pandemic.
“It’s a testament to the power that we vest in the Supreme Court justices that that person’s disposition could change the court’s position on the Affordable Care Act,” Cherry said. “I would submit to you that our form of government, our democracy, it also invests power in us as parents, as patients, as physicians.”
Trump posted on Twitter Tuesday that he will announce his Supreme Court nominee this Saturday at the White House, less than six weeks from Election Day.
“To the voters of Connecticut,” Scanlon said, “health care is on the ballot.”