Ruling to strike down health law puts GOP in a quandary

File- This May 11, 2017, file photo shows an Obamacare sign being displayed on the storefront of an insurance agency in Hialeah, Fla. A conservative federal judge in Texas on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, ruled the Affordable Care Act “invalid” on the eve of the sign-up deadline for next year. But with appeals certain, even the Trump White House said the law will remain in place for now. In a 55-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled Friday that last year’s tax cut bill knocked the constitutional foundation from under “Obamacare” by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage. The rest of the law cannot be separated from that provision and is therefore invalid, he wrote.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey joined advocates for health care access Tuesday in warning that a lawsuit in Texas targeting the Affordable Care Act threatens health care for nearly a million Pennsylvanians.

The Fifth Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday in the case brought by 20 attorneys general, and endorsed by the Trump Administration, that seeks to get the Affordable Care Act overturned.

Casey, a Democrat serving his third term in the Senate, said the lawsuit is intended “to do in the courts what they couldn’t in the halls of Congress” by repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The effort, Casey added, is something “only a right wing extremist could love,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to sound the alarm.”

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said Toomey doesn’t “generally comment” on lawsuits.

But in a statement, Toomey said: “There is not a single Republican senator who believes people with chronic and/or expensive pre-existing conditions shouldn’t have access to quality, affordable health care.”

Very few people seem to be aware that the legal challenge is under way, Casey said, even though it threatens the health care coverage of people who’ve benefited from the Affordable Care Act in a number of ways.

In addition to causing about 858,000 Pennsylvanians to lose health care coverage, if the Affordable Care Act is overturned, it will impact 5.3 million Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions, including 642,700 children, Casey said.

The senator was joined on a Tuesday morning phone call with reporters by two Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions who talked about how much they’ve appreciated the Affordable Care Act and how much they fear losing the protections included in the law.

Janice Nathan, of Pittsburgh, is a self-employed speech language pathologist who had a kidney transplant 18 years ago.

Nathan said that prior to the Affordable Care Act, she was “terrified” that medical bills would ruin her financially.

“I started sobbing” in relief after the Affordable Care Act became law, she said. “I never had to worry about losing health insurance” she said.

The lawsuit has reignited her fears about medical bills, Nathan said.

“I’ve gone back to being terrified again,” she said.

Matt Steffanelli, of Scranton, a psychotherapist, buys his health insurance through the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. Before that marketplace was created, Stefanelli said he couldn’t get his own health insurance because rates were “astronomical.”

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law legislation that would allow the state to take over operation of the Pennsylvania marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

The lawsuit in Texas not only threatens that marketplace, but the coverage of those who were covered by Medicaid expansion, which was also triggered by the Affordable Care Act, Casey said.

In Pennsylvania, there are now more than 800,000 people receiving health care coverage due to Medicaid expansion, he said.

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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