A lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act has again placed the spotlight on health care in the midterm election. The lawsuit, originating with the Texas Attorney General, has the support and signature of North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Because he works for us, we deserve answers from Stenehjem on who is funding this effort, how much will we as taxpayers be on the hook, and who implored him to back the effort. The attempt to get those answers was filed in an open record request by Stenehjem’s midterm opponent, David Thompson.
First, a brief background. Republican candidates have tried to move on from their failed effort to repeal the ACA. Instead of talking about health care this election, they are hoping to focus on their tax reform. Here is the thing, in the passage of tax reform, they eliminated the penalty for the individual mandate in the ACA. They cannot talk about tax reform without talking about health care. The elimination of that provision had ripple effects throughout the individual market. It ultimately led Republican Attorneys General to file a lawsuit to overturn the ACA. In an unusual move, the Department of Justice decided it will not defend the ACA – the current law of the land – in court. The weight of that decision is yet to be known.
The lawsuit, if successful, would jeopardize protections for approximately 300,000 North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions and threaten the approximately 40,000 people who rely on the state’s expanded Medicaid program. I was a part of the effort to pass Medicaid Expansion in 2013. It was the right decision for North Dakota. The expansion has been successful in our state. Ask a rural hospital administrator. Ask a person with access to a doctor. They will tell you. That is now at risk because AG Stenehjem joined this lawsuit.
The push back to Stenehjem’s decision initiated from Congressional candidate Mac Schneider who challenged him to drop the lawsuit. “From a policy standpoint, let’s keep what works and fix what’s broken,” Schneider is reported as saying. Schneider, a former State Senator, supported Medicaid Expansion. His Congressional opponent and State Senator, Kelly Armstrong, voted against the measure in 2013. Armstrong has been mum on Stenehjem’s lawsuit.
Stenehjem has been rather elusive in answering questions about this effort. It wasn’t until Schneider forced the issue that he released a statement riddled with talking points. This leads us to David Thompson’s open record request. In a press release, Thompson rejected Stenehjem deferring questions to the Texas Attorney General. “North Dakotans deserve answers as to why he has taken this action, and through this request I hope to find those answers.” Thompson said in a statement. He joined me on my radio show yesterday to talk about the request.
If the lawsuit is successful, there is not a healthcare policy in its place. What then? Who is funding this lawsuit and what are their motives? Who asked Wayne Stenehjem to sign up North Dakota in this effort? What, if anything, did Stenehjem offer in our name? Those are just a few of the questions to which we need answers.