Late Friday night, a Texas judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. He did based on a very questionable legal argument that makes serious legal scholars from both sides of the political aisle shudder.
The verdict is clearly political and a brazen case of judicial activism. Yet it comes as no surprise. The plaintiffs, West Virginia’s attorney general among them, carefully hand-picked the venue to ensure this outcome. Most experts believe that the judge has been sitting on the verdict for weeks now, refusing to release it before the midterm election as to not damage Republican electoral fortunes.
For now, the Trump Administration has indicated that it will continue to enforce the Affordable Care Act as the case winds itself through the appeals process with the potential to end up in front of the United States Supreme Court.
The verdict is a disgrace to the legal system. Qualified legal minds are writing about how poorly reason the ruling is in venues across the country. Almost all agree that the appeals courts and the Supreme Court should overturn it. Yet in a day and age where the courts are overly political court system, the outcome is far from certain. What it will do for now is to create more uncertainty in the health care system and for millions of Americans.
If it stands, all of us will be worse off. Millions will lose coverage in the individual market and Medicaid. Seniors will lose prescription drug coverage. Substance abuse victims will not be able to access care. Preventive care like well-child visits and vaccinations will not be free anymore. Annual and life time limits will be back. Americans will be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. Hospitals, particularly in rural America, will close. The lists goes on and I have written about it in previous columns in this venue.
Yet as bad as the verdict is, it made one thing abundantly clear once more. In West Virginia, we completely lack any leadership on health and health care issues by our elected leaders. If the verdict stands, no state will be worse off than West Virginia. We need the Affordable Care Act care more than any other place in this country.
The statistics do not lie. We are sicker than the rest of the country. We disproportionately suffer from the opioid epidemic. We have higher levels of cancer, diabetes, and countless other chronic conditions. Hundreds of thousands suffer from pre-existing conditions. Again, the list goes on.
Yet, just as when Congress was debating the repealing and replacing of the Affordable Care Act, Charleston is quite. No word about protecting our fellow West Virginians. No word about making sure their pre-existing conditions will be covered. No word about making sure that our children will have access to health care. No word about making sure our neighbors suffering from addiction will have access to treatment.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Political leaders in other states across the country have made health, health care, and protecting the Affordable Care Act a priority. Even more so, they invest resources into developing tomorrow’s health care system. And they do so by listening to experts not partisan hacks. Just ask our neighbors in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The present of West Virginia is in health care and education. The future will be even more so. It is time for the state’s leadership to acknowledge that and start acting that way. We should tolerate nothing else.
— Simon F. Haeder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science in the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy & Politics at West Virginia University and a Fellow in the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Program, a national leadership development program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.