AUGUSTA — Earlier this month, Mainers began a voting season unlike any other. In an effort to protect our public health infrastructure during a global pandemic, approximately 40 percent of Mainers have now cast their votes for president and senate candidates through absentee and early voting.
Yet in Washington D.C., the Senate majority is rushing through a nomination for a new Supreme Court justice – just over two weeks before the Court hears a case that has the potential to overturn the healthcare that millions of Americans rely on.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the biggest advancement for women’s health and sexual and reproductive health in a generation. All significant system changes need ongoing improvement, yet this landmark legislation has transformed health access, quality, and equity for millions of Americans. In Maine, 120,000 Mainers have coverage through the ACA – 62,900 have MaineCare coverage as a result of Medicaid expansion, enacted through the ACA, and another 62,000 have coverage through the ACA Marketplace. The harm will fall disproportionately to women and to Black, brown, Indigenous, and people of color, as all have higher rates of poverty and low-wage employment and are more likely to qualify for Medicaid (and the associated expansion under the ACA).
Now, while over a quarter million ballots have already been cast in Maine, this access is on the line. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Texas v. California on November 10, and the outcome could repeal the law, turning back the clock on millions of Americans who count on the ACA for coverage. In addition to ending access for 120,000 Mainers, the end of the ACA could mean the end of protections for pre-existing conditions. This means that during a global pandemic, many millions of people will be infected with COVID-19, and insurers could force them to pay higher premiums or deny them altogether.
Instead of focusing on COVID relief, the Senate majority is rushing to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat with a justice who will almost certainly sit on the bench during this pivotal case. So where does Judge Barrett stand? In 2012, Barrett publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld the law, writing, “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” In 2015, on a critical 6-3 Supreme Court decision, Barrett agreed with the dissenters who would have put an end to a core component of the ACA, saying in an interview, “I think the dissent has the better of the legal arguments.” During her confirmation hearing, she refused to directly answer questions on these remarks, but she did signal she believes the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional – the exact issue before the court on Nov. 10.
This is not only about a fair and just judicial system, but about a fair and just process. Never before has a president made a Supreme Court nomination, or a Senate confirmed a nomination, while so many ballots were already cast. Never before has a global pandemic raged while federal relief is stalled and healthcare access for millions is on the line. Maine’s senators have both stated that the winner of the Nov. 3 election should make the appointment. We are looking to them to advocate for a fair process, and one which honors the decisions of Maine’s voters, as well as their health.
The Senate is scheduled vote on this nomination on Monday Oct. 26, one of the fastest nominations in US history. If it goes through, many of us will be looking ahead to the election next month and to the oral arguments the following week to find some answers about how long Mainers must wait for universal access to health care. While not universal, the ACA has been a critical source of health care coverage for disenfranchised communities, and offers protections such as life-saving preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing requirements. During a public health crisis – while people are losing employment and related health care, grappling with a disease with potentially fatal or lifelong effects, and are struggling with balancing their roles as caregivers, workers, and citizens – this should be the last thing in our minds. Mainers deserve better than this illegitimate process, and we must make our voices heard through our votes.
— Special to the Press Herald