GRAND FORKS-The Democratic candidate for the U.S. House has challenged his Republican opponent to denounce North Dakota's involvement in a lawsuit seeking to declare Obamacare unconstitutional.
With retired registered nurse Jolene Dunphy at his side, Grand Forks attorney Mac Schneider called on state Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, to oppose North Dakota's support of Texas v. U.S. If successful, the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, would be declared unconstitutional.
That would include its provision that says insurance companies cannot deny or inflate coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
"North Dakota has no business being in this suit, and no responsible candidate for Congress would be supportive of North Dakota's involvement in this lawsuit," Schneider said Thursday, Aug. 2, in Grand Forks.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced he would join Texas in the lawsuit. Stenehjem has "an obligation to pursue" the lawsuit if he "thinks the law is unconstitutional," Armstrong said in a statement.
"We all agree that we must protect people with pre-existing conditions, but it is clear that Obamacare is a complete failure in North Dakota," Armstrong said. "The Unaffordable Care Act is unpopular with providers and customers. It's broken. Everyone knows it's broken."
Citing numbers from Dakotans for Health, a group also opposing the revocation of coverage for pre-existing conditions, Schneider said there are an estimated 315,000 North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions. He called the lawsuit a significant threat, citing U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' declaration that he would not defend parts of the ACA, including clauses protecting patients with pre-existing conditions.
"You have the defendant essentially agreeing with the plaintiffs," he said. "I don't see a lot of cases like that in my law practice.
Dunphy, a former nurse at Grand Forks Public Schools who has Parkinson's disease, said her medical costs for her pre-existing condition cost more than her income each month.
"I probably would have had to make the choice between getting my medication or putting food on the table," she said.
The loss of protections for those with pre-existing conditions could inflate health insurance prices for those patients, or allow companies to deny insurance outright, Schneider said. That would impact a wide range of patients with ailments from cancer to diabetes and heart disease, Dunphy said.
"It's just not fair to the American people ... that we have to worry about that," she said. "We have enough to worry about with our aches and pains."
Armstrong said the state has not spent money on the lawsuit, a fact confirmed by Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Liz Brocker.
Schneider said the ACA is "far from perfect." Both he and Armstrong agreed Republicans and Democrats need to work together to come up with strong health care laws.
"The plan must protect those with pre-existing conditions, stop the escalating costs and allow states more control over their own health care policies," Armstrong said.