Charlottesville, Va. — On December 18, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The divided court issued a delay and sent the Texas v. United States case back to a lower court. While the ACA battle plays out in court, health care opponents in Washington have been clear: they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the essential protections it provides for millions of American families, seniors, veterans, women, and children.
For Denise Smith, a member of Virginia Organizing’s State Governing Board, the delay-and-repeal strategy is personal.
“I have had a lot of health problems all my life. Pre-existing conditions have always affected me,” said Smith, who lives in Rocky Gap. “I had employers that wanted to hire me but couldn’t because their group insurance costs would go way up. Private insurance was out of reach for me because of pre-existing conditions.”
If the Affordable Care Act is overturned or repealed, 3,580,300 people with pre-existing conditions like Smith stand to lose protections.
The news also concerns Virginians who benefit from the state’s recent expansion of Medicaid. First approved in 2018 and implemented in January, Medicaid expansion provides health care coverage to 360,000 residents. The Affordable Care Act provides federal funding for 90 percent of the cost of expansion.
“I wouldn’t be here without Medicaid expansion,” said Terry White, a Chesapeake resident and member of the Norfolk Chapter of Virginia Organizing. “Before Virginia expanded Medicaid, I had a heart attack that cost me $26,000. Congestive heart failure, $27,000. Prostate cancer operation, $71,000. Radiation treatment, $51,000. I couldn’t pay those bills. Thank God I’m still here.”
The Affordable Care Act also extends savings to people with private insurance plans.
When Nathan Auldridge was 22 years old, doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor. As a result of his treatment, he developed narcolepsy that required ongoing medication. Before the ACA, Auldridge’s prescriptions cost him more than $1,200 each month.
“The ACA has saved me $54,400 in six years thanks to its protections on pre-existing conditions and cost sharing reductions. I don’t earn a lot of money doing the work I do,” said Auldridge, a Salem resident who works with people with disabilities. “I now pay only $45 a month for twice the medication!”
More than 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions remain at risk of losing protections and millions of Americans could see their premiums rise. Today, they are in limbo, facing anxiety and insecurity about their health care coverage.
“The fight is not over,” said Smith. “The ACA is about giving people affordable access to health care. Real freedom is not going bankrupt trying to take care of your family when someone gets sick.”
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