FARGO-Democratic U.S. House candidate Mac Schneider said North Dakota's participation in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act would hurt thousands of people whose medical conditions mean they can't get affordable health coverage.
Schneider called on Wayne Stenehjem, the North Dakota attorney general, to drop out of the lawsuit, which threatens a law the Democrat said includes protections that are highly popular, such as allowing children to stay on their parents' health plan until the age of 26 and not allowing insurers to deny coverage for preexisting health conditions.
"From a policy standpoint, let's keep what works and fix what's broken," Schneider said in a news conference on Thursday, July 26.
In North Dakota, 316,000 people, including 40,800 children, live with a pre-existing condition. Under the Affordable Care Act, about 40,000 people receive health coverage, half through expansion of the Medicaid program and half through the marketplace, which provides premium subsidies for those who qualify.
Continuing with the lawsuit is not in the state's best interest, and Stenehjem should withdraw, said Schneider, a Grand Forks lawyer and former state senator. That's especially true since the position of Jeff Sessions, the U.S. attorney general, is to abandon the nation's top lawyer's role of defending the law of the land.
Instead of throwing the law out, Democrats and Republicans should work together to make it better, Schneider said. He said a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats supported Medicaid expansion in 2013, an initiative spearheaded by former Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican.
Because many more people have health insurance, rural hospitals, which struggle financially, are more healthy financially, Schneider said.
If the Affordable Care Act is thrown out, nothing is ready to take its place. "That is not the way to make health policy in this nation," he said.
Stenehjem, who was traveling Thursday, issued a statement responding to Schneider's assertions.
The percentage of North Dakotans without health insurance, 8 percent to 10 percent, remains unchanged after Obamacare, he said. The number of companies providing health insurance in the state has dropped, while premiums have increased "astronomically."
Also, Stenehjem said, before Obamacare, those with preexisting conditions could get coverage under a state high-risk pool "with a rich benefit plan."
"In summary, it was important for North Dakota to join this lawsuit because Obamacare has brought fewer options and at a much higher price, with many North Dakotans being priced out of the market," Stenehjem said in the statement. "It is critical that any replacement plan include coverage for preexisting conditions."