Health insurance at risk
This week, in a Texas courtroom, lawyers were asking a federal judge to strike down the laws which extend insurance coverage to 47,000 North Dakotans and the restrictions on insurance companies preventing them from using preexisting health conditions against those trying to buy insurance. The arguments in this far-away courtroom are threatening to our state because Attorney General Stenehjem made North Dakota a party to this irresponsible lawsuit.
We have served in health policy positions at the state and federal level and strongly disagree with the lawsuit for three reasons.
First, 47,000 state residents would lose the insurance coverage they have through the following provisions now at risk:
– 20,000 are covered under Medicaid expansion, thanks to the leadership of Governor Dalrymple and bipartisan majorities in the state legislature. That coverage would go.
– Additionally, 20,000 more are insured on the Exchange, where help is provided for those having trouble with the high cost of premiums. This coverage would be gone.
– Finally, it is estimated 7,000 young adults are covered under their families’ policies. The Stenehjem lawsuit seeks to take this away also. Families in every community in our state would be impacted–our friends, neighbors and family members.
Second, protections exist in federal law prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to write coverage because of preexisting health conditions. If successful, the lawsuit will end these protections. We are all mortal. We will all get health conditions, if we don’t already have them. Our ability to buy coverage in the future will be at risk if these protections are lost. Guaranteed access to health insurance is important to us all.
Third, while this lawsuit can strip coverage away from 47,000 North Dakotans, it can’t stop them from getting sick. When they can no longer pay their medical bills, these charges are passed on to everyone else, and premiums will go up even faster. Sadly, some rural communities could lose their hospitals when more people can’t pay. It is challenging for some to hang on as it is. Small wonder doctors, nurses and hospitals in our state strongly oppose this law suit.
It was wrong of Attorney General Stenehjem to sue in order to take this coverage and protection away. A Texas courtroom is not the place the future of North Dakota health care should be decided.
(Earl Pomeroy is a former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner and Congressman. Mary Wakefield is the former Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services)