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​All questions go to Texas

News | September 10th, 2018

Former U.S. Representative for North Dakota Earl Pomeroy and former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Mary Wakefield - photograph by C.S. Hagen

FARGO – All questions related to the federal Texas lawsuit set to terminate current healthcare laws are still being referred to Texas, the North Dakota Attorney General’s office reported.

“We have no comments at this time,” Liz Brocker, public information officer for the Attorney General for North Dakota’s office stated when asked. The state, under Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, joined the lawsuit along with 19 other Attorney’s General and two governors after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated penalties for not obtaining insurance for health coverage.

After Republican attempts failed repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, opponents of current health care law were able to pull a few teeth from the law after penalties for not filing were repealed, but now, since a part of the statute has been repealed, the current lawsuit in Texas argues the entire law is unconstitutional.

“Here it wasn’t the work of a judge, it was the work of Congress, they took part of it and left part of it because they couldn’t get enough votes,” former U.S. Representative for North Dakota Earl Pomeroy said. “It clearly reflects Congressional intent that what remains on the books should remain on the books. Because Congress repealed part, the rest has to go, that’s just nonsense in my opinion.”

Under current Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota joined Texas and 18 other states last February in the lawsuit, but the office has remained tight lipped as to court proceedings or as to the state’s participation and monies spent during the lawsuit. A three-hour-long hearing was held last week under conservative Judge Reed O’Connor of the federal district court in the Northern District of Texas.

“If you do not respond to a legitimate concern of the public, well the press out to go crazy, that’s their job,” Pomeroy said. “They are so confident that the press will not hold them to account is really bad business.”

Sixteen attorneys general across the United States oppose the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, which could eliminate insurance provisions for pre-existing conditions that include: diabetes, cancer, heart disease, alcohol and drug use disorders, cerebral palsy, HIV/ AIDs, epilepsy, sleep apnea, pregnancy, muscular dystrophy, depression, eating disorders and bipolar disorders, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on national health care issues.

Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation came out with the results of a poll stating the 75 percent of Americans – Republican, Democrat, and independent – are highly concerned that current protections for pre-existing conditions remain in place. More than half the nation is also “very concerned” that they or someone in their family will have to pay more for health insurance if the courts overturn the Affordable Care Act.

If the lawsuit is successful, medications currently covered by law under pre-existing conditions would be lost including: anti-diabetic medications, or insulin, anti-coagulant medications, anti-cancer medications, medicines to treat autism, psychosis, HIV/AIDs, and treatments for arthritis, anemia, and narcolepsy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Approximately 320,000 North Dakotans have pre-existing conditions across the state, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Everyone, however, will one day have a pre-existing condition, Pomeroy said.

“The point is, we’re all mortal, everyone of us will get a condition,” Pomeroy said. “All of us have exposure to either having or getting a condition, because sooner or later we will all have a health condition. Arguing about the number is a distraction about what is at stake. Most of us will be shopping at some point in time.”

The lawsuit is particularly disturbing to Pomeroy and former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Mary Wakefield, because Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is not answering questions about the state’s involvement in the lawsuit.

“That is saying that North Dakotan’s health and health care is determined by Texas,” Wakefield said. “I find that response incomprehensible. This is about North Dakota family health and health care and that any part of it should be decided in Texas, a 1,000 miles away by people who don’t know our families and communities, is an abdication of responsibility.”

Pomeroy, a former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner, and Wakefield, are attempting to inform the public about the benefits of the current healthcare system. They’re with the ad hoc group Dakotans for Health, and are focused on maintaining and improving provisions within the Affordable Care Act.

If the lawsuit is successful, all current health care benefits will be lost, and there are no provisions with which to replace the law.

“They’re suing to strike the law down and when the law is down there is no protection.” Pomeroy said.

Medicaid expansion would also be hit, Wakefield said. The ripple effect of striking down Obamacare would be felt in the cities and in the countryside. Rural hospital rely heavily on Medicaid expansion, and if hospitals have to absorb those costs, management will transfer the expenses on to their patients, and then everyone will face higher premiums, she said.

“It has this effect that will just reverberate across the entire healthcare infrastructure and across the state as well,” Wakefield said. “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, there are national organizations weighing in on this as well. They all see the devastation this will cause immediately if this lawsuit prevails. This is not a game, but people are playing at this like it is a game.”

Republicans claim they don’t want to eliminate pre-existing protections, but the U.S. Attorney General wrote to the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on June 7, 2018 saying the statute and “All of its implementing regulations should be invalidated.”

“I think they’ve been extremely disingenuous, they put flat out misrepresentation,” Pomeroy said. “It doesn’t add up.” 

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