Less than week ahead of the election, Democrats and progressive groups are returning to a familiar theme and hammering Republicans on health care in the wake of the Senate vote on Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
If Barrett joins the court’s conservative majority in striking down the Affordable Care Act in a landmark case scheduled to be heard shortly after the election, nearly 250,000 South Carolinians would lose their health coverage and 900,000 with pre-existing conditions would lose insurance protections. That’s the message to South Carolina voters coming from Jaime Harrison, a Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in a tight race that could help flip the Senate to Democratic control.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, a longtime opponent of the Affordable Care Act who is trailing Democrat Cal Cunningham in the polls even as Cunningham grapples with a sexting scandal, displayed his support for stripping health coverage from millions of people by voting to confirm Barrett, according to Piedmont Rising, a grassroots group in North Carolina.
“If Amy Coney Barrett helps to overturn the Affordable Care Act, more than 600,000 North Carolinians will lose their coverage, protections for 1.7 million with a pre-existing condition will be terminated, and affordable access to essential health services, such as a COVID vaccine or reproductive health care, will be gutted,” said Piedmont Rising Executive Director Casey Wilkinson on Monday.
As early as November 10, the Supreme Court will consider a case at the center of the GOP’s years-long and deeply unpopular campaign to sabotage and dismantle the Affordable Care Act. In the case, Republican attorneys general and the Trump administration argue that the entire law must be struck down because the high court ruled in an earlier case that the law’s “individual mandate” requiring all Americans to have health insurance was unconstitutional. Democrats argue the law has improved health care for millions and should remain.
With the addition of Barrett, the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority. If the right-wing justices agree with the GOP and strike down the Affordable Care Act, about 23 million people would lose health coverage, about 15 percent more than was estimated before COVID-19 pummeled the country and killed more than 220,000 people, according to the Center for American Progress.
While the GOP wants the entire law overturned, 8 in 10 adults say they do not want the Supreme Court to throw out the Affordable Care Act provisions protecting health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, including a majority of Republicans, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll released on October 16. The coronavirus pandemic has only heightened anxiety around losing the protections, which bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with current or chronic health issues.
“Many Americans worry about what could happen to them if insurance companies were able to discriminate against family members with pre-existing conditions, and that’s why the issue has become a flashpoint in the election,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement. “Now COVID could become a pre-existing condition, potentially adding to their anxiety.”
A clear majority of adults polled — 58 percent — say they do not want the Supreme Court to overturn the entire landmark health law, a 10-point increase since this time last year. However, three-fourths of Republican voters still want to see the entire law overturned after years of hearing President Trump and party leaders rail against it, which suggests GOP voters do not fully understand that the pre-existing conditions protections would be thrown out as well.
During the hearings, Barrett refused to answer questions from Democrats on how she would rule on the Affordable Care Act case, but advocates say Barrett’s record indicates that she is hostile toward the health care law — including its popular protections for pre-existing conditions. With polling on their side, Democrats are now going on the offensive as the election nears, slamming Republicans for rushing to confirm Barrett instead of passing relief legislation for millions of people suffering economically due to the pandemic.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is facing off with Republican Mark Curran for his Senate seat, called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push to confirm Barrett a “partisan power grab” that his GOP colleagues would come to “regret” in a series of tweets.
Sen. McConnell spent 5 straight days on the Senate floor jamming through the Barrett nomination. Five days for a partisan power grab. But no time for meaningful, bipartisan #COVID19 relief. His priorities are crystal clear.
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) October 27, 2020
The messaging is meant to increase turnout among Democrats angry about Barrett’s confirmation. In addition to her presumed opposition to the health care law, the new justice is also seen as a threat to LGBTQ rights, voting rights, racial justice and reproductive rights. Advocates are urging voters to vote out Republicans who supported a hypocritical push to confirm the new justice before voters have a say at the polls.
“Vote them out, whether your opportunity comes in the next few days or in two years, because they don’t care about you,” said Ben Jealous, president of the progressive group People for the American Way, in a statement. “Any senator who voted to confirm Barrett voted to undo the Affordable Care Act and protections for preexisting conditions.”
Democrats and their allies are also hoping to sway undecided voters nervous about losing their health care during a public health crisis.
“To the American people, this is not a legislative or political game,” said Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire during a recent panel with Protect Our Care, a group that works to protect the Affordable Care Act from Republican attacks. “And to any of them who thought it might be before the pandemic — boy, do they understand the importance of health care now.”
Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the Affordable Care Act a “disaster” and called for its repeal during his opening statement at Barrett’s confirmation hearings. Still, Graham insisted the Republican push to dismantle the Affordable Care Act was irrelevant to Barrett’s confirmation because she is a judge, not a lawmaker. Democrats say the writing is on the wall.
“The Republican presidential platform calls for nominating judges who will reverse the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
Graham, a well-known incumbent who has embraced Trump, is now centering his efforts to confirm Barrett in his reelection campaign but has been losing ground to Harrison for weeks. Harrison held a two-point lead over Graham in one recent poll, and the race remains a tossup.
“We are in a fight for our life,” Graham said during an interview on Fox News on Monday after the confirmation vote. “Help me. Help all of us keep our seats.”
Democrats must add four seats to their caucus to win control of the Senate – and only three if Joe Biden is elected president and Kamala Harris is awarded the tie-breaking vote as vice president. Graham, Tillis and several other Republicans are considered vulnerable to losing their seats. The poll tracking site FiveThirtyEight estimates that Democrats have a 74 percent chance of winning a majority.
“Lindsey Graham is scared right now, and he should be,” said Guy King, a spokesman for Harrison’s campaign, in a statement on Monday.