‘Like Taking Lifeboats Away’: Wis. Doctors Raise Alarm Over Attacks on Affordable Care Act

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By Jonathon Sadowski

September 24, 2020

A third Trump Supreme Court justice could strike down the landmark reforms even as COVID-19 wipes out more Americans’ healthcare coverage.

To express how baffling it is that President Donald Trump is continuing his crusade against the Affordable Care Act in today’s political and socioeconomic climate, Dr. Jonathan Kohler needs to reach back 108 years for a comparable reference.

“Taking health insurance away from Americans in a pandemic is like taking the lifeboats away on the Titanic,” said Kohler, a Madison-based pediatric surgeon.

Kohler and two other Wisconsin doctors spoke Thursday during a call hosted by the Committee to Protect Medicare that covered the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump Administration’s continued attacks on the Affordable Care Act. After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last week, the future of the landmark Obama-era healthcare law appears grim looking ahead to the week after the Nov. 3 election, when the nation’s highest court will hear the arguments for and against a Trump-backed lawsuit to consider whether to strike down the entire law.

Ann Helms, Bob Freedland, and Jonathan Kohler spoke against President Trump's efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act even in a pandemic.
Wisconsin doctors Ann Helms Bob Freedland and Jonathan Kohler speak Thursday against President Trumps efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act even in a pandemic Screenshots

A potential third Supreme Court pick from Trump would almost certainly mean the demise of the ACA, while a tied court vote would effectively kill it as well by upholding a lower court ruling whose reasoning has even been attacked by fellow conservatives for judicial activism beyond the wishes of Congress.

In Wisconsin, that would mean as many as 224,000 people would lose health insurance, including 41,000 young adults whom the law allows to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. While the law enjoys majority support from the American public, individual provisions of the ACA such as protecting coverage for the more than 130 million of Americans with pre-existing conditions (including more than 2.4 million Wisconsinites) poll overwhelmingly well with the general population. 

“In the middle of a deadly pandemic, it is reckless and irresponsible [to attack the ACA],” said Dr. Bob Freedland, an ophthalmologist from La Crosse. “Now is not the time to falsely claim that our nation has, to use President Trump’s words, ‘turned a corner’ in the fight against COVID-19.” 

There are nearly seven million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, with more than 201,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wisconsin is in the middle of a massive surge in the pandemic, with cases recently surpassing 105,000 and deaths reaching 1,259, according to the Department of Health Services.

Dr. Ann Helms, a neurologist from Brookfield, said Trump’s attacks on the ACA not only endanger the 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, but also the millions who have contracted coronavirus who now potentially have lasting effects that could be considered pre-existing conditions.

Helms said about half of people who suffer from COVID-19 end up with chronic fatigue, while a significant number of others, even young people, suffer permanent heart muscle or lung damage.

“Wisconsin families are facing a double-whammy,” Helms said. “On one hand, President Trump is actively working to take away their healthcare protections with pre-existing conditions by eliminating the ACA. And on the other, COVID-19 is ravaging and creating more pre-existing conditions by damaging organs and creating new problems.”

Yet Congressional Democrats seem to be powerless to stop Trump from getting his third Supreme Court pick, and the tie-vote scenario may serve to seal the ACA’s fate.

“I would hope that the justices on the Supreme Court can recognize that this is not a purely ideological battle,” Kohler said, citing the ACA’s favorable poll performance. “There’s widespread support for this in the population, so I would hope that it would be 8-0 [in the event Ginsburg’s seat is not filled].”



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