750,000 in Washington will lose health care if Affordable Care Act is overturned

The Affordable Care Act is once again being challenged in the  Supreme Court. But this time, there are more conservative justices, who now hold a six to three majority.

If it’s struck down, Washington State lawmakers say 750,000 people in Washington state would lose their existing health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two hundred thousand of those impacted are in King County.

Families are already worried.

“It would be really devastating for this to be cut,” said Robin Hall, who lives in Seattle.

Eighteen states along, with the Trump administration, filed a lawsuit saying the “individual mandate is no longer constitutional.”

“This is the last thing people wanted to be seeing in the news today, this potential threat of overturning the Affordable Care Act, which people are so acutely aware is critical in an era where any of us can get sick and become seriously ill,” said Ingrid Ulrey, the policy director for Public Health Seattle-King County.

State Senator David Frockt, who is on the Senate Healthcare Committee, says if the ACA is struck down, it will cost the state $4.2 billion in federal funding – something the state can’t afford to cover.

“It will be very, very bad for the state of Washington,” Frockt said. “The stakes are extremely high in this case.”

Most of that funding covers costs for people  on Medicaid (Apple Health) through the expansion, which allows people earning slightly higher incomes to still qualify for health coverage. The rest of it goes towards subsidies for people like small business owners or freelancers who don’t get insurance from an employer and buy their insurance on the exchange.

Public Health Seattle-King County says before the ACA, 12% of people in King County didn’t have insurance. In recent years, that dropped to 5%.

“We really don’t want to go back to those days,” said Jennifer Thames, who lives in Seattle. “I think in the United States, it’s a shame we don’t have universal health care. The ACA is at least a little step where people aren’t completely falling through the cracks.”

Her daughter, Robin Hall, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age eight. She’s now about to go to college.

“If the Affordable Care Act goes, she has pre-existing conditions and might never be able to get medical care,” Thames said. In 2019, the Washington state legislature took some of the protections in the ACA and made it into state law. Pre-existing conditions are protected in Washington but wouldn’t apply if Hall left the state.

“It feels ridiculous to be 19 and having to really worry about my medical future in this kind of way, in a financial way. It doesn’t seem right for anyone,” Hall said.

During the oral arguments on Tuesday, some conservative justices appeared to be unwilling to strike down the entire law. Chief Justice John Roberts said, “I think frankly that they wanted the court to do that, but that’s not our job.”

Frockt said that doesn’t bring any guarantees. “You don’t know what the court will do, even with the discussion at the oral argument,” he said.

Twenty million people who will be impacted nationwide are closely watching.

“I think it’s really scary. We need the Affordable Care Act,” Thames said.

The Supreme Court has until the end of June to rule.