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Here we go again: A contemptible elite keeps trying to kill Obamacare, even during a pandemic | COMMENTARY

In 2014, President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden cheered seven million people who signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act and lashed out at political opponents who Obama said were bent on denying care to Americans.
In 2014, President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden cheered seven million people who signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act and lashed out at political opponents who Obama said were bent on denying care to Americans. (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a big country, and unless you’ve been infected or know someone who has, unless you know someone who died from the disease caused by the coronavirus, unless you’ve lost your job because of the pandemic, it might still be hard to comprehend.

One of life’s challenges is having empathy for those we do not know and cannot see and, in our COVID isolation, even with news organizations telling this horrible story each day, it’s hard to see the people represented in the numbers.

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But the numbers say we are in a bad place.

Let this sink in: As of Tuesday morning, the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University confirmed 10,111,077 cases in the United States, with deaths at 238,256 since the start of the pandemic. By Monday in Maryland, we had 155,371 cases and 4,072 people dead from the disease. Over the last week, about one in 400 Americans tested positive. The disease is spreading again and more will surely die.

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Meanwhile, the economic recovery could falter and leave millions out of work longer and without the health insurance they had through their jobs. Let this sink in: Up to 165,000 workers in Maryland alone might have lost their insurance because of the pandemic, according to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. Starting in March, at least half that number signed up for some form of subsidized insurance through the exchange. If not for the exchange — and for the federal law known as Obamacare that made it possible — where would those 80,000 people be? They’d have no access to affordable care.

And yet, in the midst of the worst health crisis in 100 years, the Trump administration, wealthy Republicans, think-tankers and 18 attorneys general want the Supreme Court to deprive some 20 million Americans of health insurance.

If you thought the Supreme Court had settled the question of the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality in 2012, you underestimated the tenacity, amorality and financial resources of the law’s opponents. Their tired argument is that the government has no place in mandating, funding or arranging health insurance for people who cannot afford it on their own.

I will put aside the philosophical argument that, in the United States, we should act for the common welfare, that our taxes should fund a good society, including a comprehensive and effective health care infrastructure that leaves no one sick or bankrupt.

If that’s too touchy-feely for you, I will go the common sense route: Even before the virus arrived, we had a health care crisis in the United States, with around 50 million people uninsured. Everyone who had insurance was, in some way, paying for those who could not afford it — up to an average of $1,100 a year in our premiums. We have been over this ground so many times, it hardly bears repeating: When the uninsured get sick and walk into a hospital for treatment, the hospital treats them and passes the cost along to the rest of us.

So I have never understood conservative opposition to the idea of paying a little more in taxes to have a system that covers everyone and, eventually, saves the rest of us (and our employers) some money. It also makes no sense that Medicare is reserved for older Americans when, if we planned it correctly, we could have a single-payer system for everyone. It’s infuriating to hear older Americans oppose the ACA while they walk around with Medicare cards.

But, as much as I like arguing for it, I won’t even go to Medicare-for-all. I believe we will get there some day. I believe the nation would like to see a transition to it, but in the kind of increments that progressives hate.

Messaging is a problem. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, too many Americans — including 67% of those who want to see a single-payer system — believe they’ll be able to keep their current insurance plan under Medicare-for-all. The bigger problem is that not enough Americans grasp the trade-offs: slightly higher taxes for lower out-of-pocket expenses.

Kaiser has been polling and examining polling data on this for years. In October, the nonpartisan foundation released a summary, finding what you’d expect: Democrats and independents overwhelmingly favor a national Medicare-for-all plan while most Republicans oppose it. Like everything else, the concept is fraught with partisan politics. Bernie Sanders did a great job explaining how it would work, but apparently not enough Republicans were listening.

In the meantime, Kaiser polling found more popularity for what President-elect Joe Biden has in mind — building on the ACA in order to expand coverage and reduce costs. He wants to include a public insurance option, like Medicare, for those who want it. That makes the most sense for now.

But Republicans have no interest in improving the ACA, and there will be nothing to build on if the conservatives prevail at the Supreme Court. Not only will millions lose coverage, not only will states lose billions of federal dollars for Medicaid for people of lower income, but the elements of the ACA that are most popular — coverage for those with preexisting conditions, family plan coverage for your kids up til age 26 — will be scrapped.

It’s stunning, contemptible and unconscionable — that a conservative elite of Americans keeps trying to take health insurance from lower-income Americans, and even during a pandemic. Let that sink in.

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