FARGO-Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem "outsourced" health decisions for North Dakota residents by joining a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Stenehjem joined a legal challenge in federal court in Texas that seeks to declare the health care law unconstitutional. If the law is struck down, thousands of North Dakotans who get their health insurance through the marketplace or from expanded Medicaid will lose their coverage, Dorgan said on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
The lawsuit is the latest effort by Republicans to undo the law in a battle that now is largely being fought in courtrooms after multiple efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed.
"North Dakotans shouldn't be happy they outsourced their health care interest to some Texans," said Dorgan, a supporter of the Affordable Care Act when he represented North Dakota in the Senate when the law passed in 2010.
Dorgan said Stenehjem and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, should explain who they consulted before they acted.
"Did you do a poll?" Dorgan said. "Did you talk to doctors? Did you talk to patients?"
Stenehjem's office did not respond to requests for a response.
Cramer, in a statement, said it would be a "dereliction of duty for any elected official to allow an unconstitutional law to remain in place" and said he still supports "doing away with the failed Obamacare law and replacing it with a patient-centered healthcare plan that lowers premiums for all Americans and keeps pre-existing condition protections."
Also, Cramer said, he hears from many North Dakotans, especially seniors and those in rural areas, who are losing access to insurance markets and were "burdened by skyrocketing premiums and deductibles under Obamacare."
If the Affordable Care Act is struck down, mandates for health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions, allow children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, and a ban on lifetime coverage limits all would go away, Dorgan said.
That would hit a rural state especially hard, he said, since two-thirds of farmers have pre-existing conditions, and many are covered through the marketplace exchange. Courts have repeatedly upheld the law's constitutionality, he added.
"Everybody has a lot at stake here in getting things right," Dorgan said.
Although congressional Republicans have floated bills they say will continue certain provisions, such as protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions, Dorgan said those "fixes" do not provide adequate solutions.
"They don't have a plan they could pass," he said.
Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, medical bills were a common cause of bankruptcies, Dorgan said. Even families who were covered would sometimes learn that expensive treatments weren't covered, or would reach coverage caps.
That's why Dorgan pushed to include a ban on lifetime coverage limits in the Affordable Care Act, a provision he said was spurred by two women, one from Fargo and one from Bismarck, who kept prodding him to end the practice.
In a rebuttal to Dorgan's criticisms, a spokesman the North Dakota Republican Party, said the health care law "saddles" consumers with "higher costs, worse care and fewer options.
"There is no denying, the current state of healthcare needs fixing, and every major Republican proposal that has been advanced has included guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions," Jake Wilkins, the North Dakota GOP's communications director, said in a statement.