“We have enough economic problems that we don’t need more families going bankrupt.”
Rep. Tom O’Halleran of Arizona said Friday that repealing the Affordable Care Act, especially in the middle of a pandemic, only stands to make the country weaker.
O’Halleran, a Republican turned Democrat in 2016, represents an area of rural Arizona that includes Navajo County, one of the hardest-hit regions for coronavirus in the country.
The congressman’s comments in a press call came two days after President Donald Trump reaffirmed his commitment to repealing the healthcare law despite the ongoing pandemic. On Wednesday, the last day his administration could change its position in a Supreme Court case challenging the decade-old legislation, Trump said he still wants to “terminate” it.
“In this time of crisis, for us to continue down a path of trying to redo a healthcare system that is critically needed, we have enough economic problems that we don’t need more families going bankrupt,” O’Halleran said.
In less than two months, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a huge downturn in the U.S. economy.
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression – 14.7%. Millions of Americans have been forced to file for unemployment since businesses and other services have been shut down to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some people have also had to leave work because they have been exposed to the virus, they are at elevated risk for the virus, or because they themselves have contracted it. The U.S. has nearly seen 1.3 million cases and at least 76,475 deaths from COVID-19 so far.
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And older people and individuals with pre-existing conditions guaranteed coverage under the ACA are at elevated risk for the coronavirus.
While Congress has passed legislation making coronavirus tests available to everyone for free, treatment for COVID-19 is not. Patients, especially those who are uninsured, can still be charged thousands of dollars to get better for doctor’s visits, medications, hospitalization, and more.
In fall of 2019, there were about 27.5 million Americans without health insurance, and that number is only expected to grow as more people lose their jobs.
Despite the large numbers of people losing jobs and, thus, health insurance, the Trump administration has rejected opening a special enrollment period allowing people to purchase a plan from the marketplace.
“In the time of pandemic, people need health care,” O’Halleran said. “They need to have stability in their system.”
The ACA, passed in 2010, provided tens of millions of Americans with health care and guaranteed coverage for the 135 million Americans under 65 who live with pre-existing conditions. If the law were repealed, 300,000 Arizonans could lose coverage.
A group of 18 Republican state attorneys general, including Arizona’s, sued the federal government in 2018 in an effort to strike down the law, claiming it to be unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court is due to review the challenge later this year, with a decision possibly not coming until 2021. It’s unclear, however, how the pandemic affects this timeline.
Despite Republicans consistently opposing the ACA, they have not put forth a replacement.
“I have yet to see a plan to take the place of the Affordable Care Act,” O’Halleran said. “That’s because they don’t have one.”
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