On Wednesday morning, as the nation’s most powerful justices hear oral arguments in a major challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the people gathered outside the Supreme Court will hear their own speeches in favor of Obamacare — not from lawyers, but from the real Americans whose health care hangs in the balance.
Proponents of the health care reform law are planning a rally that will feature some of the people whose ability to access affordable insurance could be severely compromised by a ruling against the Obama administration.
“I want people to understand that this court case means something, and it could affect a lot of people — including me,” Adrienne McLean, a 26-year-old Indiana resident who will be speaking at the event, told ThinkProgress.
If the court sides with the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the government will no longer be allowed to provide tax subsidies to help Americans purchase insurance in the 34 states with federally-run marketplaces. That will leave an estimated 13 million people scrambling to pay for the full cost of their monthly premiums on their own. Millions of people are projected to lose their coverage, a seismic shift that will destabilize the insurance market as a whole.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Planned Parenthood
For people like McLean, who signed up for an Obamacare plan because she doesn’t have access to insurance through her part-time job as a medical assistant, the looming Supreme Court decision is stressful. She relies on her current coverage to manage her asthma and her hyperthyroid condition, which both require medication and regular doctors’ appointments. But she wouldn’t be able to afford her plan without a subsidy.
“I need to still be able to pay for my health insurance and have everything continue flowing, because I don’t get to take a break from my medication, I don’t get to take a break from seeing my physician,” McLean said. “Those are things that are really important to keep me healthy.”
Delma Limones, a 22-year-old student who lives in Texas, has similar concerns. If she can no longer afford her insurance premiums, she may not be able to regularly see a doctor to monitor the health issues that often plague the Latina community. Before she was able to enroll in an Obamacare plan, she said one of her biggest barriers to accessing insurance was the cost.
“I work, I go to school, I’m a first-generation college student. For me, having health insurance was always more of a luxury,” Limones told ThinkProgress. “But my mom had cervical cancer, and heart problems run in my family, so it was something that I was always scared of — what if something happened to me? What would I do?”
At the Supreme Court, Limones plans to emphasize how important the marketplace subsidies are for communities of color in red states like Texas — where GOP lawmakers have resisted implementing other Obamacare provisions intended to expand coverage to vulnerable populations, like the law’s optional Medicaid expansion. According the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 1.7 million Texans could lose subsidies if the Court rules against Obamacare. A recent report from Planned Parenthood estimates that about 562,546 of them are women.
Celia Maluf, a 60-year-old pilates instructor from Florida, told ThinkProgress that she got involved with the health care advocates rallying in front of the Court because she is “being terrorized by the possibility of this lawsuit.”
CREDIT: Courtesy of Celia Maluf
As a self-employed Miami resident, Maluf wasn’t able to afford insurance on the individual market before she could enroll in an Obamacare plan last fall. She had gone uninsured since 2005, skipping dosages of the hormonal replacement medication she takes in the aftermath of a hysterectomy in order to make the pills last longer.
“Every day, I was so scared to have anything more serious than a cold. And I didn’t. I was lucky. But luck shouldn’t be something that any American should have to count on,” Maluf said. Now that she has insurance, she finally feels like she can “breathe without fear,” she added. But she knows she wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of her premiums and her monthly medication if the King plaintiffs prevail and she becomes one of the 2.5 million Floridians losing access to subsidies.
“For me personally, this was really like a lifeline,” Limones agreed. “Now that I have health insurance, knowing that, depending on the ruling of this case, I could have that taken away — it’s a really scary place to be in.”
Most Americans are sympathetic. According to a recent poll conducted by Hart Research Associates, 71 percent of people think that tax subsidies should be available to Americans in all 50 states, and 56 percent said they would “strongly prefer” the justices to preserve them in the states that haven’t set up their own Obamacare marketplaces. Previous polling has found that up to 63 percent of Americans want the Supreme Court to rule in favor of tax subsidies.
And even outside the specific question of who should qualify for this financial assistance from the federal government, McLean is hopeful that her activism outside the Supreme Court will translate into a broader awareness about the human costs of access to health insurance.
“I really want my voice to be heard, not just at the rally but also when I go back to Indiana,” she said. “My main message is that health care should not be a privilege. Insurance should be something that everyone gets. You shouldn’t have to pick between your utility bill and paying for insurance.”