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Cantwell calls on Justice Department to resume Affordable Care Act defense

UPDATED: Tue., July 3, 2018, 7:42 p.m.

Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks in Spokane on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, about a new bill she was introducing in Congress to crack down on opioid diversion. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks in Spokane on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, about a new bill she was introducing in Congress to crack down on opioid diversion. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell called on the U.S. Justice Department Tuesday. to resume defending portions of the Affordable Care Act in court.

Speaking in front of a group of health care providers and people with chronic illnesses at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital, the Washington Democrat said the June 7 decision by the Justice Department to stop defending consumer protections in the health care law would hurt people with conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and depression.

“Even if you have coverage with a major employer, if we roll back this provision, you could be at risk of an insurance company basically discriminating against you based on your prior medical history,” Cantwell said.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by Republican leaders in 20 states arguing the portion of the law requiring people to buy insurance was unconstitutional.

Attorney General Jess Sessions wrote he agreed with the states’ determination that congressional action last year eliminating the legal requirement that people buy health insurance also rendered two main pillars of the health care law unconstitutional: the requirements that insurance companies sell policies to anyone, regardless of age, health or gender; and that similar policies should cost the same for everyone.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, people with pre-existing medical conditions were often excluded from coverage on the individual health market.

Those with employer-provided plans usually fared better, but the law still allowed imposing lifetime caps on the total amount spent on care, mandatory waiting periods for coverage of a pre-existing condition, or denial of coverage for a specific conditions for someone who purchased insurance.

Jake Satake, a sophomore at North Central High School, spoke about how the law allows his family to pay for his diabetes care. Satake was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three and a half years ago; he said a bottle of insulin, which he goes through in a week and a half, costs about $255 without insurance.

“With the Affordable Care Act, I’m not charged any more because I need this to live. My parents aren’t charged any more because my body decided to attack itself,” he said. “Diabetes doesn’t care if you can afford it or not.”

Cantwell and MultiCare executives also said rolling back protections would lead to more people being uninsured and still needing medical care. That would increase the amount of free care hospitals have to provide, ultimately raising costs for everyone.

“Preserving coverage for patients with these conditions is our priority,” said Laureen Driscoll, president of MultiCare Deaconess Hospital.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said after the Justice Department memo that she didn’t agree with the administration’s interpretation and that preserving coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is important. Her opponent, Democrat Lisa Brown, has criticized her for supporting health insurance legislation that critics say would damage those protections.

Cantwell said the administration’s goal is to weaken the health care law, and if they truly wanted to protect people with pre-existing conditions they would ask Congress to amend the law to a form they believed was constitutional.

“If they really thought it was a legal thing, then go ahead and ask me to fix it,” she said.


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