THE BLOG

King v. Burwell: A Political Attack on Health Care That Millions Didn't See Coming and Don't Like Much

03/02/2015 12:00 am ET | Updated May 01, 2015
Mark Wilson via Getty Images

When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, it provided a bright vision of a more secure future for ordinary working Americans. It's a future that many parents, young adults and middle-age Americans have just barely begun to enjoy. Now their health and financial peace of mind hang in the balance because of a single U.S. Supreme Court case. It's called King v. Burwell and it'll be heard by the high court Wednesday.

Think back. Just five years ago, we were a nation at the forefront of health care innovation but lagging far behind other developed nations in lowering health care costs and making sure everybody who needs health care gets it. Almost all of us have a story about the terrible human costs from the bad old days -- when a friend with a pre-existing condition like cancer was denied insurance coverage; or when a family member's chronic illness ended in their premature death because they couldn't afford care.

When debating or reviewing proposals from both parties for health care reform, Congress didn't set up any distinctions about if you would get a better deal if you lived in a certain state. In fact, the tax credits that have already allowed more than 9 million people to afford health care coverage are extremely popular among voters across all party lines, according to a national poll we commissioned last week.

That's no surprise for those millions who face the very real threat of losing coverage based on this court case.

Claudette Newsome, a mother of two school-aged girls in Houston, yearned for the security of affordable health care after her husband lost his life to cancer at age 46. Now receiving $180 per month in tax credits, she joined 11 other consumers and SEIU Health care members in filing an amicus brief that calls on the Supreme Court to consider what's at stake.

For the 11.4 million Americans like Claudette who recently enrolled, coverage under the Affordable Care Act came through in the nick of time -- when they couldn't afford health care or weren't offered it on their jobs. They've had a taste of what it's like to leave the fears of postponed surgeries, skipped medications and medical bankruptcy behind -- and they thought it was once and for all.

This case puts all of that at risk for them. Worse yet, Republicans in Congress have no proposals to restore coverage for people who might lose their health care tax credits as a result of this case. Republicans are likely to pay a substantial political penalty for that, according to our poll.

While people like Claudette now buying their health care through federal marketplaces will, of course, be hardest hit, none of us will be spared. We will all feel the effects of a return to the days of escalating costs. If the Court issues an opinion that restricts tax credits, premiums are expected to rise by 35 percent or more.

Most voters disapprove of the possibility that the Supreme Court might issue an opinion that restricts tax credits, according to our poll. In fact, they're skeptical enough that they think justices would likely be doing so based more on politics than on law.

After all, Republicans in Congress took 56 pointless votes to repeal or derail the Affordable Care Act the law--and not one to improve it. Republicans in 22 states opposed the health care law's opportunity to expand Medicaid, a program that is extremely popular with voters. In doing so, Republicans left a lot of their own citizens out in the cold, individuals who are working hard but not paid enough to afford health care.

The financial ripple effects -- of withholding Medicaid from people who need it, of families losing their tax credits and of more of us not being able to afford skyrocketing premiums -- will extend to U.S. hospitals and their staffs.

Hospitals, often among the largest employers in our communities, are financially stronger now that they can invest more money into raising the standard of care instead of into covering the cost of emergency room visits for people who don't have any other access to care.

Registered nurse Marilyn Ralat Albernas shares, in SEIU's amicus brief in King v. Burwell, that now that parents have access to affordable prenatal care, she's seen noticeable improvements in infant health and new mothers' readiness to care for their little ones. Plenty of doctors and other health care professionals who are striving to provide the highest quality of care tell similar stories.

There's too much at stake in King v. Burwell for the high court to turn a blind eye to the very real consequences an adverse ruling would have on working families, our hospitals, and our communities. I'm confident the Justices will rule on the side of working Americans and preserve affordable health care and financial security for millions.