Medical bills key issue in key states

  • Saturday, October 24, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

Esther Wigley just finished paying off her medical bills – from 2017.

Wigley, a Medicare recipient from Scranton, Penn., is now working to pay off bills from 2018 and 2019. And as she looks ahead to her 2020 tab, she fears she might be in for some serious and painful choices.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that my bills keep me up at night,” Wigley said during a conference call organized by Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, as Democrats mount a two-front fight – one in a Capitol Hill hearing room, the other out in the field – to save the Affordable Care Act.

“My health and ability to put food on the table is at stake in this election,” Wigley added.

As messengers go, Wigley is a potent one. Current polling shows President Trump losing to Biden among seniors in a trio of critical swing states, including Pennsylvania. Biden has targeted Trump’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacted a tragic toll among older Americans, as he’s made his pitch to the powerful voting bloc.

Hundreds of miles away from the West Scranton senior center where Wigley was speaking, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee trotted out example after example of Americans who’d benefited from the Affordable Care Act, and who might well end up suffering from its future repeal.

While she strenuously avoided taking a position on almost everything, we do know that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who now appears to be on the fast-track to confirmation to the Supreme Court, is hostile to former President Obama’s signature health care law. That fact comes courtesy of her previous legal scholarship, as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin pointed out.

A future Justice Barrett could well be called upon to hear, and rule on, California v. Texas, a case backed by congressional Republicans and Trump’s Justice Department, that seeks to do what the GOP could not accomplish legislatively: topple the Affordable Care Act.

Never mind that, in the midst of the gravest public health crisis in a century, Republicans do not have a replacement for it, nor have they evinced much interest in formulating one.

And while there’s reason to believe the high court may rule against the challenge, that does not mean that Barrett does not pose a long-term threat to the law’s future viability.

Democrats retook control of the House in 2018 largely on the back of voters’ dissatisfaction with Trump, generally, and his attacks on health care, more specifically.

Recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that most Americans have a favorable impression of the health-care law overall, and broadly support some of the law’s specific provisions, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Biden, meanwhile, supports expanding and strengthening the existing statute, while his allies on the left are looking for universal healthcare. And at the moment, it looks like Democrats are on track to expand their House majority, and might even flip the Senate.

“So many Americans are concerned by one issue – and that’s health care,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) said during that press call with Wigley. “So much of that health care is in mortal danger right now.”

Casey has already said he’ll vote against Barrett’s confirmation and has declined to meet with her. Like every other Democrat, Casey is still smarting from the GOP’s stymying of Obama’s 2016 high court pick, Judge Merrick Garland. And he’s made no secret of his disdain for the credulity-straining justifications that Republicans have offered in defense of Barrett’s pre-election confirmation.

Casey, who does not sit on the Judiciary Committee, credited his colleagues on the panel for their efforts to keep the health-care debate front and center during their turns at the microphone.

“They’ve been resolute and determined about what is at stake,” Casey said, speculating that the “majority of Americans did not know there was a case before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10.

“I’m sure that an even larger number did not know that if Judge Barrett was not Justice Barrett,” by Nov. 10 that “she could not make a decision,” Casey continued. “Now, more Americans know. And now, armed with that knowledge they are contacting their members of Congress.”

They’re also voting in such crucial swing states as Pennsylvania, where Trump eked out a narrow, 44,000-vote victory in 2016 over Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.

National polls show Biden leading Trump by an average of 9.2 percent. In must-win Pennsylvania, also Biden’s childhood stomping ground, the ex-Veep is up by an average of 7.1 percent, according to RealClear Politics.

Democrats may not win the battle over Barrett’s nomination, but they could end up winning the war.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

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