In Midst of Pandemic, Md. Officials Hail Affordable Care Act

Photo by Tom Werner/Getty Images

State and federal officials from Maryland marked the 10th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with a vow to protect the landmark law from Republican attacks.

President Obama’s signature health care initiative, Democratic officials claimed, has saved lives and improved the nation’s overall health by adding tens of millions of people to the insurance rolls and eliminating curbs on care that existed previously.

The lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, Rep. Andrew P. Harris, called the ACA a failure.

The officials marked the anniversary of the law at a time when the U.S. public health system is on high alert and already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters of the ACA said there is an advantage to having more people with insurance benefits because there’s less high-cost uncompensated care.

Vincent DeMarco, head of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, said 20 million more Americans, including 400,000 Marylanders, have coverage now compared to before the ACA took effect. And no longer can insurance companies deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or establish lifetime payment limits.

But U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) warned that the law remains under assault. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another challenge to the ACA — this one from Republican state officials around the U.S. who have the backing of the White House.

“We’re in a battle, in Washington, to preserve the system, with an administration that is extremely hostile to it,” he said. “If we lose the Affordable Care Act, we’re talking about over 300,000 Marylanders would lose their coverage and access to care.”

Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) joined a media conference call while the Senate was casting procedural votes on a measure to provide more than a trillion dollars to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

Van Hollen said the “coronavirus just underscores the importance of having a universal health care system with accessible and affordable health care for all.”

Rep. Andrew. P. Harris, a physician and Maryland’s only GOP lawmaker, was not on the call with his colleagues.

In a statement, Harris said “the ACA has failed terribly to keep down the skyrocketing cost of healthcare and healthcare insurance. Hard-working Americans need relief from high healthcare costs and high premiums.”

Harris said Congress must “replace the ACA with a system that allows coverage across state lines, provides total price transparency, allows association health plans, and allows coverage for everyone with pre-existing conditions.”

Harris supported the American Health Care Act of 2017, a measure that was vigorously opposed by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Business Insider called it “the least popular major bill in decades.”)

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the latest challenge to the ACA in the fall.

Earlier this month, the General Assembly approved legislation — Senate Bill 872 and House Bill 979 — to enshrine Affordable Care Act provisions into state law in the event the Supreme Court strikes it down.

The legislation passed largely along party lines.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has yet to indicate whether he will sign the bills into law. A spokesman for Hogan, Michael Ricci, said he wasn’t sure when bills that passed in the General Assembly session, which adjourned hastily last Wednesday, would be presented to the governor.

Michelle Eberle, the head of the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange, said 94% of residents currently have coverage, the highest rate ever. The state has a special health care signup running through April 15 that it put into place immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak gained widespread publicity.

She said uninsured people who come into her office and leave with a health plan often express relief — and sometimes are “in tears.”

Even though a decade has passed since President Obama signed the ACA into law, public opinion remains mixed. A recent poll found modest support for the law overall, with Democrats backing it and Republicans opposing it by large margins.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), who was House Majority Leader when the law was adopted and holds the position today, said it’s unfortunate that GOP officeholders continue to make it an “ideological fight.”

Hoyer urges action on ventilators and masks

The nation’s governors have complained that the federal government has failed to use its power to boost production of medical equipment. That failure, they maintain, has forced states to compete against one another, boosting prices and encouraging profiteering among suppliers.

As he wrapped up his remarks, Hoyer pleaded with President Trump to invoke his authority to address this growing need.

“I am urging the president of the United States to direct, urge and plead with every manufacturing firm in America who has the capability to produce personal protection devices — whether they be face masks, whether they be gowns, whether they be gloves or respirators or ventilators — to immediately turn this extraordinary capacity that America has, to make sure that the hospitals and caregivers have these absolutely lifesaving devices.”

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