The U.S. Supreme Court as seen Tuesday, June 30, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen Tuesday, June 30, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

GOP-led effort to strike down the Affordable Care Act fails as another 20,000 in the state get coverage through a Biden-ordered special enrollment period.

When Milwaukee resident David Marstellar learned Thursday the US Supreme Court had once again rejected a lawsuit that sought to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he could not contain his excitement.

“I will give you my exact words [when I heard of the ruling]: Hallelujah, because literally millions of Americans won’t have to go to bed at night feeling the way I felt—the fear and the panic,” said Marstellar, who has a heart condition and, while on an ACA plan, underwent life-saving procedures that would have cost millions of dollars. He credits the law with having saved his life by providing him access to life-saving coverage without bankrupting him.

Marstellar and other Wisconsin healthcare advocates expressed relief Thursday after the Court dismissed the lawsuit, which was backed by Republican-led states and former President Donald Trump. The suit sought to invalidate the entire law based on the law’s individual insurance mandate, which previously carried a tax penalty for uninsured people. Congress lowered the penalty to $0 in 2018. The Supreme Court rejected the challenge on a 7-2 vote, with Trump-appointed justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joining the majority.

The landmark Obama-era healthcare reform helps provide health coverage for an estimated 224,000 Wisconsinites, while 2.4 million more would be at risk of losing coverage without the law’s protections. Its provisions include requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parent’s insurance until the end of the year they turn 26, and an expansion of Medicaid for low-income individuals (which Wisconsin Republicans have yet to accept).

“The decade-long war on our healthcare has been stopped once again,” Opportunity Wisconsin, a progressive group, said in a statement. “Not only has the Affordable Care Act once again been upheld by the US Supreme Court, but it continues to be a lifesaving law that enjoys significant, bipartisan support among Wisconsinites.” 

In a statement, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig praised the decision and said it’s time to push for bolder healthcare reforms.

“While the popular Affordable Care Act provides basic healthcare protections, there is still much to be done to guarantee that every American has quality affordable health care, no matter what,” Kraig said. “Citizen Action of Wisconsin will continue to fight until health care is established as a human right, and everyone in Wisconsin receives the care they need, when they need it, without fear or financial hardship.”

Wisconsin was initially part of the Republican-led lawsuit due to former Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel, but current Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul withdrew the state from the suit in 2019 shortly after being sworn in.

“This decision today literally will save lives,” Kaul said in a call with reporters hosted by Protect Our Care, an ACA advocacy organization.

Kaul said government leaders, including those in Wisconsin, must continue to expand healthcare coverage. He urged the Legislature to “finally do the right thing and expand Medicaid.”

“Healthcare isn’t just for the healthy and wealthy, and today’s decision is a critically important victory for our work to make sure everyone has access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage,” Evers said in a statement after the ruling. 

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“Today’s decision is a tremendous victory for the American people and a complete repudiation of the Republican war on health care,” Brad Woodhouse, executive director of Protect Our Care, said in a statement.

The need for healthcare coverage through the ACA was made more apparent with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the massive loss of jobs and health insurance coverage it created. 

Trump rejected calls to reopen the ACA marketplace to allow people to find new or more affordable coverage. President Joe Biden changed that shortly after taking office, opening a special enrollment period on Feb. 15 that runs through Aug. 15.

In Wisconsin, 20,701 people have purchased insurance during the special enrollment period—5,342 in May, more than 7,100 in April, 5,000 in March, and 3,000 in February. Nationwide, more than 1.2 million new ACA enrollees purchased coverage, leaving the ranks of the uninsured whose medical bills frequently go unpaid and lead to higher healthcare costs for those who do have insurance.