A Senate Race, a Texas Lawsuit, and a Supreme Court up for Grabs
By Samuel Ast, Political Contributor
Missouri Attorney General and Senate candidate Josh Hawley finds himself in an interesting position in the days leading up to the start of a Texas lawsuit filed against the United States.
Along with 20 other states, Missouri joins the list of plaintiffs led by the state of Texas in a case that seeks a ruling against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. While opposition to the healthcare law–which was signed into law in 2010–by means of the justice system are not uncommon, this one has the potential to further elevate healthcare as a central issue to Hawley’s bid to become the junior senator from Missouri this November.
In addition to the possible impacts this North Texas litigation might have on the Senate race, this case also has the ability to complicate an already contentious confirmation effort by Senate Republicans, who are expected to initiate hearings on September 4th for the president’s Supreme court pick, Brett Kavanaugh.
In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the constitutionality of the healthcare law, and the ability of the government to enforce the individual mandate which penalized those who did not purchase healthcare. With Kavanaugh on the Court, the potential for a different ruling on the law is made all the more likely if the Affordable Care Act makes its way back onto the docket, a very real scenario given the looming Texas lawsuit.
When asked whether or not the lawsuit in Texas increased the importance of confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Hawley campaign questioned the wisdom of Senator McCaskill’s past judicial confirmation votes, saying that the Senator should “stand up to her party and support judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.”
Efforts to collapse the ACA, most widely known as Obamacare, have not ceased since the law passed Congress. In 2017, Republicans in congress inserted language into their tax legislation that repealed the individual mandate of the health law which imposed a penalty, or tax on individuals who decided to opt-out of obtaining insurance coverage. This was problematic, as the law, like all other insurance plans, relies on healthier people to foot the bill of those with more serious health problems. Despite this destabilizing action, tens of millions of people currently benefit from Obamacare and the accompanying medicaid expansion–including an estimated 2.5 million individuals in Missouri–which, according to Senator McCaskill, could lose their health insurance if the law is torn apart. Missouri was one of the many states that decided not to expand Medicaid under the auspices of the ACA, losing out on billions of dollars in federal funding.
The case in Texas, where oral arguments are set to begin this week, has found an unlikely ally in the U.S. Department of Justice. In June of 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the department to drop their defense of the ACA, which had been the policy of the last administration. Emboldened by the lack of opposition and a partner in the government, the case against the ACA has shifted to becoming a larger threat to health benefits than was originally expected.
As a testament to the increasingly serious nature of the case, national legislation has been sponsored by Senator Thom Tillis, of North Carolina called the “Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Act”, which seeks to ensure that protections for patients with pre-existing conditions remains the status quo. This aspect of healthcare was addressed head on in the ACA, and the passage of the law marked a significant improvement for patient protections against insurance companies that sought to limit the expenses of providing insurance to unhealthy individuals by not offering them adequate coverage. In this legislation, prominent members of the Senate look as though they want to limit the possible public relations fallout of a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the Texas case.
It is known that activist groups and opponents alike have deployed teams of canvassers throughout the state to register voters for the November elections and raise awareness of the confirmation vote for Kavanaugh. For instance, groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List have already visited more than 100,000 homes in Missouri to “educate voters on Senator McCaskill’s abortion extremism.” These efforts seek to increase pressure on Senator McCaskill to vote in favor of confirmation. The nation’s high court has ruled on the health law once, already
Progress on health issues in Missouri has been made during the last legislative session of the state legislature. Stronger patient protections were put into place for emergency room visits, opioid addiction was partially addressed and work requirements for Medicaid were defeated in the Missouri Senate. The St Louis Post-Dispatch has even reported that there have been discussions within the state legislature about the possibility of organizing a statewide ballot initiative to expand healthcare for the poor, as an option. This progress is hard to square with an Attorney General who is participating in a lawsuit that aims to get rid of health insurance for those Missourians covered under the Affordable Care Act.