Blumenthal sounds alarm over ACA protections

Sen. Richard Blumenthal at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center on Thursday. Joining him, left to right, are patient Aliana Fichera, CCMC President James E. Shmerling, and Dr. Juan C. Salazar, Physician-in-Chief.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Thursday employed a key Democratic strategy to try to block President Donald Trump’s choice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, warning the candidate would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s popular guarantee of health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Any nominee who fails to commit to upholding these protections for people who suffer from these pre-existing conditions ought to be rejected by the United States Senate,” Blumenthal said at a morning press conference at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. “I will oppose that nominee and I will ask specifically for explicit guarantee of support for the Affordable Care Act protection.”

Senate Democrats, who are in the minority, are essentially  powerless to block a confirmation vote on Trump’s choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. But they, along with some liberal organizations, have launched an all-out blitz to pressure at least two Republican senators to vote against the eventual pick, while keeping the entire Democratic caucus unified in a “no” vote.

One issue that could successfully unify the caucus is the threat to the ACA’s prohibition on insurers dropping or denying coverage to people who are sick. Polls show strong public support for this particular Obamacare protection.

The campaign against Trump’s pick, who is expected to be revealed on Monday, targets two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., torpedoed GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and can’t afford many defections, especially if McCain, who is ill, is unable to vote.

Protect Our Care, a group devoted to preserving the Affordable Care Act, has launched an ad highlighting the potential of a new justice who would vote to overturn pre-existing conditions.

The heart of the controversial health law, along with its protections for people with pre-exiting health conditions, is threatened by a lawsuit against the ACA in Texas that has been joined by a number of conservative states and could end up in the Supreme Court.

Saying the loss of the ACA would result in an economic shock to the state, Connecticut has joined a multi-state lawsuit led by California in opposition to the Texas lawsuit.

On Thursday, Blumenthal said ending protection for people with pre-existing health conditions could affect up to 52 million Americans, including cancer patients, pregnant women, and nearly 200,000 children.

The senator was joined at the press conference at CCMC by 13-year-old Aliana Fichera, who suffers from common variable immune deficiency, which makes its victims highly susceptible to bacterial infections and viruses, since the age of eight. Fichera receives treatment every four weeks, which consists of infusions of life-saving plasma that cost $5,000 per month.

“Without insurance coverage, I would not have the treatments I need to live a productive life. I know I need these to survive,” Fichera said. “To think that insurance companies may have a choice to cover me or not is terrifying.”

CCMC President James E. Shmerling said providing insurance for  pre-existing conditions is not a partisan issue.

“It’s a moral issue that’s consistent with our American values,” he said.

Those opposed to Trump’s selection of another conservative justice to the Supreme Court also warn that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision on the constitutionality of laws that criminalized or restricted access to abortion, could be overturned.

NARAL Pro-Choice America hosted a call this week discussing threats to Roe v. Wade from a conservative-tilted Supreme Court, during which ten thousand activists participated. Indivisible, a resistance organization formed at the onset of Trump’s administration, has put out a guide encouraging constituents to confront senators about the upcoming vote.

But there are also moderate Democrats in tough races for re-election — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and who may not vote against another conservative candidate if Roe v. Wade is threatened.

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer privately urged Trump in a phone call to nominate Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. While Garland’s confirmation was blocked by Republicans, Schumer told Trump that nominating Garland would unite the nation.

It’s more likely Trump will chose one of three candidates who are the top of his short list, federal judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Raymond Kethledge.

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