Backup Obamacare plans may be too expensive for Louisiana

Attorney General Jeff Landry talks about health care legislation he's backing in the upcoming session, April 1, 2019, in Baton Rouge.

The shouting and bad behavior at a presidential debate may influence the contentious Nov. 3 election, but in the year of a global pandemic, the potential for an abrupt and essentially unplanned-for demise of the U.S. Affordable Care Act is a bigger kitchen-table issue.

Americans have seen the stress put on the health care system by COVID-19. We have seen the bravery of the front-line doctors and nurses and the ingenuity of hospitals responding to the crisis.

And while the medical professionals can debate specific provisions of the ACA, better known as Obamacare, the notion of a federal lawsuit overturning it suddenly would be a destabilizing event that we don’t see as helpful right now, if ever.

Our view in 2010 was that the complex bill to create Obamacare had good and bad points. We did not endorse it at that time because of its complexity and the political chaos around its largely party-line adoption.

It was not true that it was rushed through: Committees of Congress, and acres of newspaper debates, thousands of hours of talking heads, all had argued over the provisions of the bill for years. Most of the provisions are in fact politically popular, such as a requirement that families be able to buy insurance without the much-abused barrier of “preexisting conditions.” Medicaid expansion has been a Godsend for Louisiana during the pandemic.

The political argument in favor of such positives of the ACA dominates the headlines, as a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on keeping or rejecting the law is scheduled right after the Nov. 3 election. But less-appreciated is that the law reaches into all sectors of medical practice in this country.

Provisions of the law end lifetime caps for patients needing very expensive care and push the system toward preventive medicine — hopefully a long-term cost saver. “Even some key improvements to Medicare — including a reduction in prescription drug costs for beneficiaries — would be gone,” analysts wrote recently in The New York Times of the lawsuits.

The politics of such a wrenching change should deter Republican politicians from the lawsuit, but it was inspired by the GOP attorney general of Texas and enthusiastically endorsed by Attorney General Jeff Landry of Louisiana, a Republican. It was an irresponsible challenge, because of the radicalism of the desire to strike down the entire law over its funding mechanism, ultimately upheld by Chief Justice John Roberts’ court.

The Wall Street Journal called the lawsuits — based on a legal stretch by a U.S. district judge in Texas — a big political loser for Republicans. “We were against Obamacare from the start and lambasted the Chief’s 2012 ruling. But this Obamacare case will hurt the GOP politically while accomplishing little legally,” the Journal wrote.

We hope that the Journal and many legal scholars are correct that the lawsuit won’t ultimately succeed and result in wholesale chaos in America’s medical system. But it could, thanks to AGs not paying attention to the potential consequences of lawsuit-happy partisans.

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