ACA has ‘literally been a lifesaver’

If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed during the coronavirus pandemic, there could be devastating consequences for millions of Americans, according to Benjamin Sommers of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Sommers, Huntley Quelch Professor of Health Care Economics, testified about the ACA at a September 23, 2020 hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

With the Supreme Court slated to hear arguments on November 10 as to whether the ACA is unconstitutional, the law is in danger of being struck down.

Sommers told lawmakers that the ACA produced the largest drop in the uninsured rate since the creation of Medicaid and Medicare more than 50 years ago, helping an additional 20 million Americans gain health insurance. He said that a decade of research has shown that the ACA has helped boost families’ financial security and has improved access to primary care, prescription medications, and care for chronic conditions. The law has also led to improvements in health status across a range of conditions and has improved overall survival.

Even with the ACA, there were still nearly 30 million Americans without health insurance before the pandemic began. And the number has gone up since 2016, propelled by a series of steps by the Trump administration aimed at undermining the health law, Sommers said. The administration has shortened enrollment periods, cut funding for ACA advertising and outreach efforts, defunded important aspects of the law, and made repeated efforts to repeal it—which surveys show have led roughly 25% of the public to be confused as to whether the law is still in effect. The administration has also permitted states to implement policies that make it more difficult for residents to sign up for and maintain health insurance.

Sommers said that, during a pandemic, it’s crucial to ensure that it’s easy for Americans to get health care coverage and to stay covered. “We have to be doing everything we can to get people access to health insurance and health care,” he said.

Watch Benjamin Sommers’ Congressional testimony (beginning at 28:26): Hearing on “Health Care Lifeline: The Affordable Care Act and the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Read a San Jose Spotlight article: South Bay lawmaker calls on Republicans to end fight against the Affordable Care Act