Late Friday afternoon, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The ruling came the day before the enrollment deadline and after years of chipping away at the law from the Trump administration. What ultimately set this latest lawsuit in motion was the elimination of the individual mandate in the 2017 tax reform law rushed by Congressional Republicans and supported by Congressman Kevin Cramer and Senator John Hoeven.
North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem joined the Texas lawsuit to overturn ACA with the help of Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread. Stenehjem has refused to tell the public who “asked” him to sign our name to the lawsuit. Instead, Stenehjem and Godfread joined federal candidates Kevin Cramer and Kelly Armstrong to “set the record straight” about their health care wishes after being called out by advocates, families, and political opponents for their collective desire to throw out the ACA and its protections in federal law.
Those politicians were attempting to have it both ways. Claim they support popular provisions of ACA like protections for people with pre-existing conditions while at the same time supporting a lawsuit that would strip those same federal protections away. In November, they won at the ballot box in North Dakota. In December, they won in a Texas courtroom. They’ve been silent on the lawsuit since the ruling was handed down.
Throughout the campaign, they claimed they simply wanted state control over health care. They neglected to mention the state rejected that control when they had the chance. I wrote during the campaign, “There is no guarantee the State of North Dakota’s Insurance Commissioner who backs the lawsuit, the Governor who backs the lawsuit, nor the Legislature would work to reinstate protections once they’re thrown out.” We are rapidly approaching that test. They can prove me wrong by acting in the 66th legislative session.
It is unclear what will happen during the appeal of the Texas decision. Perhaps the decision will be reversed and federal protections retained. What can and should be done is to put pressure on elected officials in North Dakota to ensure a seamless transition if necessary. They claimed they supported popular federal provisions in the ACA. It is time to make them prove it. The 2019 Legislative session starts in January. State officials should to ensure that whatever policies need to be changed in state law to maintain protections and coverage are in place. Pass provisions they claimed they supported in ACA into state law so they’ll remain for North Dakota families if the federal program is, in fact, struck down entirely. The window to get it done opens in less than a month.