As the nation’s highest court decides the fate of the Affordable Care Act, a Democrat in one of Georgia’s closely watched U.S. Senate runoffs is making the case for ousting an incumbent senator who has opposed the law.
“We’re in the middle of a global health emergency unprecedented in our lifetimes,” investigative journalist Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who is in a runoff with Republican Sen. David Perdue, said at a Protect Our Care press conference Tuesday morning at Liberty Plaza across from the state Capitol.
“This is a moment when all of us should be uniting to expand access to affordable health care to make sure that nobody loses their coverage because they get sick, to make sure that everybody can afford their prescriptions. This is not a matter of partisan politics. This is a matter of the public interest,” he added.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could be the 10-year-old law’s undoing, but two key conservatives have signaled that the court could rule against what’s left of the individual mandate without striking down the law in its entirety.
Republican officials – including Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr – have argued that the mandate is unconstitutional because Congress zeroed out the penalty for not having health insurance in 2017, meaning it could no longer be called a tax. They have pushed for the entire law to fall with the individual mandate.
If the justices overturn the law, it could mean the end for other key provisions, like protections for those with pre-existing conditions. More than 21 million Americans could lose their health care coverage.
President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to build on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but he is likely to run into familiar resistance from the GOP-controlled Senate. Biden’s victory – which President Donald Trump and several Republicans have not recognized – has raised the stakes for a pair of Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia that will decide which party controls the chamber.
Aside from the Perdue-Ossoff matchup, Sen. Kelly Loeffler will also face Democrat Raphael Warnock, who has also put the GOP’s attempts to dismantle the law at the center of his campaign. Loeffler was appointed to the seat by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp after Sen. Johnny Isakson stepped down last year because of his declining health.
“This is why these Senate runoffs are so vital,” Ossoff said Tuesday. “Because if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, then it will be up to Congress to decide how to legislate such that preexisting conditions remain covered.
“So if we do not win the Senate races, and if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, then Georgia families and Georgians with asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer will be at risk of having their health coverage denied by insurance companies.”
Ossoff lagged Perdue by about 88,000 votes Tuesday, but the Democrat’s vote tally was enough to pull the incumbent senator and key Trump ally below the 50% threshold needed for an outright win.
Notably, Perdue presided over the Senate when the late Sen. John McCain cast the deciding thumbs-down vote on the GOP’s so-called “skinny” plan to repeal and replace the law. Perdue voted to repeal the law in 2015 and backed the failed repeal and replace plan in 2017.
“Senator Perdue always has and always will support protecting health care for those with pre-existing conditions, period,” John Burke, Perdue’s communications director, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Jon Ossoff is pushing a socialized health care plan that would increase medical costs, leave us with fewer doctors, and close hospitals during an unprecedented global pandemic.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for Ossoff to criticize Senator Perdue, who has secured billions of dollars in COVID-19 healthcare assistance for Georgians while he spent months opposing the Senator’s efforts to do so.”
An August PolitiFact review, though, found that the protections for preexisting conditions included in a proposed Perdue-backed GOP measure that Perdue has touted were not on par with those baked into the Affordable Care Act.
Former President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation has so far survived two legal challenges that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Every Georgian, whether they know it or not, benefits from the standards and protections that have been put in place by the Affordable Care Act,” Laura Colbert, executive director of the nonpartisan Georgians for a Healthy Future, said at Tuesday’s press conference. “If the Supreme Court were to strike down the ACA, the consequences would be felt personally and deeply by Georgia households across the state.
“The collapse of the Affordable Care Act, if the lawsuit leads to that, would be disproportionately felt by Georgians of color and rural Georgians,” she added. “These Georgians are already shouldering the heaviest burdens of the pandemic and faced unfair barriers to care even before the pandemic began.”