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Healthcare lawsuit threatens protections many North Dakotans rely on

Mary Wakefield

Earl Pomeroy

Day after day for most of the last month, more North Dakotans per capita tested positive for COVID-19 than any other state.

This terrible virus has filled our hospitals with sick patients and, in some instances, filled our funeral homes.

We are therefore dismayed that at this time, Attorney General Stenehjem continues his efforts to have the federal law providing health insurance to tens of thousands of North Dakotans thrown out. The case will be argued in the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, and the outlook is frightening.

Here is what’s at stake: 20,000 North Dakotans insured under the Affordable Care Act could lose their coverage. 22,000 covered under Medicaid expansion could also lose coverage. Also, young adults now covered under their families’ policies up to age 26 would lose coverage.

There are additional issues as well-like $5,000 in new drug costs for the seniors who lose the “donut hole” coverage under their Medicare drug plan.

There will be the additional loss of millions of dollars coming to North Dakota for public health programs that help to track diseases like COVID and that strengthen programs that help people to prevent and manage illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Our rural hospitals, often operating on razor thin margins, will lose millions of dollars they now receive through the ACA. Finally, if this law is dismantled, insurance companies will once again be able to use a person’s preexisting health condition as a reason to deny them insurance coverage at the very time they need it most. Why would anyone want North Dakotans to lose their health insurance coverage because they have a pre-existing condition like asthma or even COVID?

The law at issue was passed ten years ago. No alternative with these important protections has been put in place, despite President Trump and Republican majorities having years and the votes to do so.

So now, in the middle of the most serious viral pandemic in one hundred years-as of today, a virus without a cure-Attorney General Stenehjem will go to the Supreme Court to have all of this taken away. Who could possibly think this is a good idea as the people in our state head into winter and flu season suffering the highest infection rates of COVID in the country!

We urge Stenehjem to withdraw North Dakota from this lawsuit. Action like this would signal to the country and the Court that protecting both people’s health and our health care system trumps partisan politics. Taking coverage away from the people who need it while COVID-19 rages, is both dangerous and cruel for families across the state and North Dakota should not be party to it.

Mary Wakefield, Grand Forks, is Former Acting Deputy Secretary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Earl Pomeroy is a former congressman from North Dakota. He also lives in Grand Forks

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