Tribune-Star Editorial graphic

More uncertainty is the last thing Americans need right now, especially uncertainty about health care.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 126,000 lives since February in this country. Its symptoms in those most dire of cases are painful. The literally breathtaking respiratory disease is highly contagious. Assumptions that this novel coronavirus had run its course after those disturbing months of March, April and May are getting squashed in June. Outbreaks have hit nearly half of the states after the reopening of their economies.

Its resurgence is beyond alarming. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, rolled back his state’s reopening on Friday. Why? Hospitalizations surged by 55% over the previous week as coronavirus spread rapidly.

This health crisis is far from over. Health care coverage is more important than ever right now. An estimated 27 million Americans lost their jobs and their employer-based health insurance this spring as the pandemic forced states to shut down nonessential businesses and services. Their options boil down to signing up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, or — if they qualify — Medicaid.

On Thursday, the federal government reported that 487,000 people had signed up for ACA (or Obamacare) coverage on Healthcare.gov, up 46% from the same time in 2019.

Later Thursday night, the Trump administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court, asking the justices to end Obamacare completely. All of it. Such a decision would include erasing the protection of coverage for people with preexisting health conditions. The president keeps saying he wants such coverage to continue, but has given no clear way to make such a thing happen in the absence of Obamacare.

More than 20 million people could lose health coverage if the Supreme Court follows the Trump administration’s request.

Why do such a thing? And why now? Obsession. It is a chance for the president to scuttle yet another action taken by his predecessor, President Obama.

That opportunity comes through a case set to come before the Supreme Court this fall. It involves a lawsuit, pursued by Republican-led states, including Indiana. Attorneys general in those states contend the ACA became unconstitutional once Congress in 2017 eliminated the law’s penalties and fines for not having health insurance, while still retaining its requirement that Americans have coverage. Prior to Congress’ elimination of those fines, the Supreme Court had upheld the ACA’s mandate.

Though Republicans have fought the ACA since it became law a decade ago, some — such as Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander — said Congress did not intend to scrap the entire law by eliminating the fines. Trump has pressed on anyway.

Thursday’s report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not predict how many Americans would apply, over time, for Obamacare coverage as a result of losing jobs and, thus, health insurance, The Associated Press reported. The CMS report did say this: “While the magnitude may be unclear, job losses due to COVID-19 have led to increased enrollments on Healthcare.gov.”

Even the most optimistic projections by public health experts say the pandemic will stretch into next year, at least.

If a Supreme Court decision ends the Affordable Care Act, the White House and states driving this legal quest should have an operable, detailed alternative ready — that same day — for swift approval by legislators. Millions of idled American workers do not need another uncertainty, particularly one as worrisome as health care coverage, in the middle of a health crisis.

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