Less than 3 days after being re-elected as House Speaker, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans’ chief priority this session would be to repeal the Affordable Care Act (or, “Obamacare”), a signature healthcare reform bill of the Obama administration that has enabled more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans to obtain healthcare coverage. Furthermore, Obamacare enjoys particular popularity – and above-average use – among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Many political commentators have weighed in to discuss the devastating impact of an Obamacare repeal on Americans; none have considered the specific impact of Obamacare’s elimination on the AAPI community.
It turns out that if Republicans are successful in passing legislation to dismantle Obamacare, approximately 1 in 15 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders would lose their healthcare coverage, and millions more would love access to mental health care, reproductive health care, and a vast array of preventative care.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. By the 54th time, sue.
House Republicans advanced a draft of legislation today that would grant Congress the authority to file a civil lawsuit against President Barack Obama for constitutional overreach. If the legislation passes, it would authorize the House to file civil action and seek injunctive relief against the president and other departmental heads for failing to act “in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including any amendment made by such provision.”
Just so we’re clear, Republicans want to sue the president for failing to implement the ACA (also known as Obamacare), the landmark achievement of the Obama administration that these same Republicans have attempted to undo or override in 54 successive failed votes.
This morning, history was made. In a 5-4 decision (read the .pdf of the SCOTUS opinion), the Supreme Court decided that the landmark healthcare reform bill championed by the Obama administration (and that will undoubtedly serve as the cornerstone of Obama’s presidential legacy) is on its whole constitutional.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has been nicknamed “Obamacare” by both critics and later by the White House, makes several important changes to this nation’s healthcare system, including:
Critics of the Obamacare — Republicans and specifically Tea Party members — claimed that it was an over-reach of the federal government; but, in reality, they just don’t like the president. Let’s not forget that the most vocal members of the rightwing have openly stated that their target is President Obama, and not necessarily the morality of his policies; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell proudly proclaimed in 2009 that his top priority was to make President Obama a “one-term president”.
Spurred by their hatred for the president, rightwing activists have launched a multi-year smear campaign against the president’s healthcare reform bill that has succeeded in saturating the national debate with misinformation and bold-faced lies. Obamacare will not eliminate the coverage for Americans who currently have health insurance. Obamacare will not prevent Americans from being able to continue to see their own doctors. Obamacare will not establish “death panels” that will decide which Americans can live or die.
Republicans took their issues to the Supreme Court, arguing that Obamacare violated the Constitution, and the rights of individual Americans to elect not to purchase health insurance.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional. Specifically, the individual mandate, which requires that all Americans above a certain income level purchase health insurance, was judged to be legal since it basically represents Congress exercising its power to tax the population. In essence, Congress is taxing any American at a different rate if they don’t have health insurance, compared to any American who does. The Supreme Court also found the rest of the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, except for its restrictions on dispersion of Medicare funds to states who refuse to comply with the law; in that case, states can only be denied Medicare funds associated with the elements of the program they refuse to comply with, and would not lose all of their Medicare funding.
The Supreme Court’s decision is a major victory for Democrats, progressives, and the Obama administration. But, more importantly, it is an incredible victory for the literally millions of Americans whose healthcare will be improved by the Affordable Care Act, including the Asian American community and other communities of colour, which have historically higher rates of uninsured and underinsured people compared to the community at-large.
Currently, an estimated 1 in every 7 Asian Americans is uninsured (2.7 million, or 17.2% of Asian Americans). Of those, 75% (or approximately 2 million) will gain or become eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including nearly 100,000 young Asian Americans between the ages of 19-26 who will be able to receive healthcare through their parents’ insurance. Nearly 900,000 elderly Asian Americans are currently on Medicare, and they will benefit from more preventative coverage and other expanded services.
Roughly 11% of Asian Americans are self-employed and/or own a small business; the Affordable Care Act will make purchasing health insurance for small business owners and their employees significantly easier and more affordable. This not only ensures that Asian American small business owners will have better access to healthcare, but it also helps to stimulate Asian American business by making them more competitive via improved employee benefits.
And finally, there are roughly 8 million Asian American women in this country who can no longer be discriminated against by their health insurance providers for becoming pregnant, being domestically abused, or just being a woman.
But most importantly, Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit when this country places increased attention helping all of its citizens, and not just the most affluent. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit by a renewed commitment by the federal government to provide social programs that benefit all, including the less fortunate. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit when this country becomes, once again, one in which all citizens, regardless of race, class or creed, have equal access to life, and life-saving healthcare coverage. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit by when healthcare is no longer a privilege in this country, reserved for the wealthy and the well-connected, but it is a basic human right accessible to all.