Nov. 09--Illinois consumers battered by higher health insurance prices and dwindling options in recent weeks woke up Wednesday with a new concern: Will their Obamacare coverage vanish altogether amid Donald Trump's presidency?
Trump, elected president Tuesday, has promised to erase President Barack Obama's signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act. He's said he will repeal and replace it immediately, calling the law "a catastrophe."
Those words are causing concern among the hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans who depend on health insurance bought through the Obamacare exchange.
Miranda Wilgus, of North Chicago, worries about the stability of her coverage for next year.
"We are in uncharted waters, and what's going to happen come January, frankly, scares me because you have a lot of people who are very ill, who need benefits and were able to finally do it in a way where they weren't bankrupting themselves, and that might disappear," Wilgus said.
Most people still get insurance through their employers or state or federal programs, but more than 300,000 Illinoisans and 12.7 million Americans bought coverage through the Affordable Care Act's online exchange for this year. The Obama administration has predicted even more will sign up for next year. Open enrollment for exchange plans is going on now through Dec. 15.
Legal experts say it's unlikely Trump will be able to quickly and totally repeal the health care law, even with a Republican-dominated Congress.
Republicans don't have enough seats in the Senate to stop a filibuster over legislation to repeal the law, so they would need to get some Democrats onboard with their plan, said Laurel Harbridge Yong, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University. To do that, Republicans would likely would have to propose a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that would appeal to Democrats, she said.
Or Republicans could avoid a filibuster altogether by putting changes into a budget reconciliation bill, but they wouldn't likely be able to repeal the entire law that way. They could seriously damage it, however, said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia and expert on the Affordable Care Act.
"If I had coverage through the Affordable Care Act, I would be very worried this morning," Jost said Tuesday.
Jost said he's more concerned about the Trump administration doing everything it can make the Affordable Care Act fail than about a quick, total repeal. "An administration that wants to make it fail can do a lot to make that happen," Jost said.
Despite those and other worries, Wilgus said she'll still likely buy coverage on the exchange for 2017 because it's her only option, and she'll continue to advocate for sensible changes rather than a repeal. She remembers what it was like not to have insurance for 10 years because her small employer didn't offer it and she had a pre-existing condition. She wants to fight for the Affordable Care Act's survival.
The Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to carry coverage or pay a penalty, prohibits insurers from denying people coverage based on pre-existing conditions and allows parents to keep children on their insurance until age 26, among other things.
"If we all just give up and curl up under our blankets, then that's not an acceptable solution no matter how enticing it may be," Wilgus said. "If we don't participate, we're giving in, and I can't do that."
Not everyone on the exchange is fearful of what a Trump presidency might bring.
Char Schoenbach, of Chicago, was one of the 49,000 Illinoisans forced to switch insurers midyear after insurer Land of Lincoln failed.
"It's a big mess," Schoenbach said. "I'm hoping there's a better chance with Trump in this situation."
In a statement Wednesday, Scott Serota, CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said the association looks forward to working with Washington to ensure Americans have access to high-quality care at affordable prices. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is the largest health insurer in Illinois.
"In particular, we are sharing ideas for improving the individual market, so that consumers have more choices, better prices and a robust private marketplace that is predictable and stable," Serota said.
Illinois hospital systems Advocate Health Care and Presence Health both said in statements that the systems will continue to provide quality care, regardless of changes.
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