Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Now not the time to cut health coverage

by Chronicle Editorial Board

As Montanans cope with the accelerating threat of the coronavirus, a great many are at risk of losing their health coverage at this worst possible time. That’s unforgivable. This is no time to be cutting health care for anyone.

Virus-related job losses have caused the first Medicaid expansion enrollment increase in more than a year. The expansion was made possible by passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, and the federal government covers 90% of the cost. But some of those enrollees could lose coverage if a work requirement attached to the expansion by the 2019 Legislature is enforced. The requirement hasn’t taken effect yet because the state’s latest Medicaid expansion plan has yet to be approved by federal officials.

Meanwhile, Montana Sen. Jon Tester has introduced a resolution condemning a brief filed by the Trump administration that asks the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the entire ACA. The administration is offering nothing to take the place of the ACA. If the court strikes it down, provisions requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions would be eliminated along with the Medicaid expansion.

There are legitimate arguments for conditioning Medicaid coverage on work or job training requirements. And we must continually have a robust debate on how to provide health care coverage for all Americans. But now is not the time to be axing coverage options and eliminating requirements to cover preexisting conditions. The latter could leave thousands of Montanans without coverage for common chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

There are many flaws in the Affordable Care Act. But tossing it out the window with nothing to replace it would be disastrous. Montana’s entire congressional delegation should get behind Tester’s resolution opposing the elimination of the ACA. They should do their best to persuade colleagues from both parties to do the same. And enforcement of the Medicaid expansion’s work requirements can wait.

Leaving hundreds of thousands of Montanans without health care coverage in the midst of a pandemic is nothing short of cruel. At this point, if anything is changed, health care options should be expanded – not eliminated – until the current crisis is over.