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SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on the Future of the Affordable Care Act

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  • The Supreme Court heard another challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tuesday, marking the third time the law has gone to the highest court since it was passed a decade ago.
  • The most recent case, filed by Texas and other Republican-led states, focuses on a provision of the law known as the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to have health insurance or face a penalty.
  • The court had previously upheld the mandate as constitutional, arguing it amounted to a tax, but in 2017, Congressional Republicans lowered the penalty to $0.
  • Now, the Republican-led states argue that the mandate can no longer be considered a tax, and thus both the provision and the entire ACA are unconstitutional.
  • Because the Trump administration has not put forward a comprehensive replacement for the ACA, if the justices repeal the law, more than 20 million Americans would lose their health insurance during a pandemic.

Latest ACA Challenge

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday for the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), marking the start of proceedings that will decide the future of essential healthcare benefits for millions of Americans during a pandemic.

The case marks the third time that the ACA, often called Obamacare, has been brought to the highest court since it was signed into law by former President Barack Obama a decade ago. The first two attempts were rejected by the Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 respectively.

The most recent challenge, brought by Texas and other Republican-led states and backed by the administration of President Donald Trump, centers around a provision of the law known as the individual mandate, which required all Americans to either have some kind of health insurance or pay a penalty.

That specific provision has been one of the most controversial elements of the law, and when it was brought before the justices in 2012, the court upheld the mandate 5-4 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.

But in 2017, the Republican-held Congress passed a sweeping tax bill that tweaked the individual mandate by setting the penalty for not having health care to $0. Now, the GOP-led states leading this most recent challenge are arguing that because the mandate is zeroed out and no longer raises revenues, it can no longer a tax and thus is unconstitutional.

What’s more — and this is the key part here — they are also claiming that the individual mandate is so ingrained in the ACA that it cannot be separated from the law without scrapping the whole thing. In other words: the Republican states believe that the entire ACA was rendered unconstitutional when the Republicans Congress zeroed out the mandate.

Now, notably, many legal experts do believe the argument that an entire law should be rolled back because one part is problematic is ambitious, to say the least. While some of the courts conservatives have implied that they are hesitant to get rid of the ACA entirely, the makeup of the court is very different now than it was during the other two Obamacare challenges.

Since taking office, Trump has appointed three justices to the Supreme Court, including the newly-seated Amy Coney Barrett, who has openly criticized the court’s previous rulings on the ACA in the past.

Major Consequences 

The stakes for overturning ACA are higher than ever before because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has already infected over 10 million Americans and claimed over 238,000 lives.

The U.S. is currently experiencing the worst of the pandemic, and health officials believe the situation will only become more dangerous soon. Cases and hospitalization rates are rising all across the country, new daily infections and 7-day averages have been hitting record-breaking highs, and experts now say they expect us to hit 200,000 daily cases as soon as next week.

If the justices scrap Obamacare, more than 20 million Americans — including roughly 12 million low-income Americans — would lose their healthcare overnight.

Those people would very likely be left without health insurance for a while because, despite Trump’s repeated claims for the last four years that his healthcare plan to replace Obamacare is almost ready, at least publicly, the president has proposed close to nothing on this front.

Even if it did, the divided Congress would likely have a very difficult time agreeing on any kind of deal. But the fact that there is no comprehensive program to replace Obamacare if the Supreme Court decides to get rid of it would also have other major impacts for even more Americans.

One of the most notable, of course. is how this affects pre-existing conditions. Under Obamacare, health insurers are required to cover most pre-existing conditions. If the ACA is rolled back, insurers can start denying coverage to the estimated 52 million Americans — roughly 1 out of every 4 — who have pre-existing conditions.

That is especially concerning in regards to the pandemic because is very possible that COVID-19 could become a pre-existing condition. With the ACA in place right now, insurers cannot use a coronavirus case to deny someone coverage or charge them more: it is essentially treated the same as a pre-existing condition.

However, if Obamacare no longer protects that, insurance coverage for COVID-19 will be up in the air.

The reversal of the ACA would also have other far-reaching effects, including forcing older Americans to pay more for prescriptions and cutting young adults off their parents’ healthcare plans before the age of 26, as is the law now.

While experts say it is increasingly unlikely that the court will do away with the ACA in its entirety, it is unclear what a partial repeal would impact the law and the American people.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post)

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Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000

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  • More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all. 
  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
  • Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
  • Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet. 

Millions Without Water

As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.

Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday. 

Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.

The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event. 

Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.

Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K

All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.

That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week. 

While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.

One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.

“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs. 

In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” 

He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”

That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.

Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”

“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said. 

While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Texans Still Face Broken Pipes, Flooding, and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as Million Regain Power

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  • The number of Texans without power fell from 3.3 million on Wednesday to below 500,000 by Thursday.
  • Still, millions are currently under a boil advisory, pipes have burst as they begin to thaw, and some individuals have died or been hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it has sent generators, water, and blankets to Texas, adding that it’s working to send additional diesel for generators.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes.

Power May Be Back but Problems Persist

Power outages in Texas Thursday morning fell to under 500,000 — down from 3.3 million Wednesday morning. 

According to the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the remaining outages are largely weather-related and not connected to problems related to forced outages. 

While that return of power to millions is significant, Texans are still facing a host of other problems.

For example, there have been numerous reports of carbon monoxide poisoning as people still without power try to keep warm in their cars or through other means. An adult and a child were found dead Tuesday after running their car inside of a garage, prompting Houston police to issue a statement warning that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”

Six children and four adults were rushed to the hospital Wednesday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after setting up grills inside their homes. 

Even for those now with power, water has become a major issue. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were placed on a boil advisory and about 263,000 were without functioning water providers. 

One reporter tweeted out a video of people lining up at a park to fill up buckets of water.

“This is not a third world country,” she said. “This is Houston, Texas.”

The Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service have even cited melting and boiling snow as an emergency option if people can’t find water elsewhere, an option many have already turned to. 

For some, all these problems only seemed to compound in the form of burst pipes. One viral video shows water gushing out of a third-story apartment. Others posted images of their broken pipes and the damage they have caused. 

As a result, a number of local media outlets have begun to outline steps people can take once their pipes start to thaw or if they break. 

Amid Problems, Aid is Being Distributed

Alongside the overwhelming amount of problems, there has also been a large aid response.

A FEMA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency has sent 60 “very large” generators to help keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure open. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that FEMA is preparing to move diesel into Texas to keep that backup power going.

So far, FEMA said it has sent “millions of liters of water” and “tens of thousands” of blankets.

Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes. That’s because as the storm first hit, electrical demand surged. Since many Texans have plans connected to the wholesale price of electricity, they’re potentially set to be hit with sky-high bills.

Among other issues plaguing Texans is food spoilage; however, that can potentially be reimbursed through renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.

According to an official from the Insurance Council of Texas, “Food coverage is often related to personal property.”

Notably, there are some stipulations depending on individual circumstances and policy. To learn more about how insurance providers accept food spoilage claims, click here.

See what others are saying: (KTRK) (The New York Times) (Houston Chronicle)

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Texas Mayor Tells “Lazy” Residents “No One Owes You” Anything Amid Power Outages

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  • When residents in Colorado City, Texas turned to a local Facebook group to ask if the city or county had emergency shelter plans in place to keep people warm amid power outages, Mayor Tim Boyd shared a Facebook message that sparked outrage.
  • “Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!” he wrote before suggesting that those struggling are “lazy.”
  • “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he added. “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
  • Hours later, Boyd said he was speaking as a citizen since he had already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. It’s unclear when he actually resigned and he is still listed as mayor on the city’s website.

Mayor Under Fire

The mayor of Colorado City, Texas is facing intense backlash for comments he made on Facebook Tuesday claiming the local government has no responsibility to assist residents struggling amid historic winter temperatures.

The remarks came after community members turned to a local Facebook page asking if the city or county had emergency shelters in place to keep people warm amid widespread power outages.

In response, Mayor Tim Boyd wrote, “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!”

“Sink or swim it’s your choice!” He continued. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”

Boyd argued that residents should come up with their own plans to keep their families safe. Those that are sitting at home in the cold waiting for assistance, he said, are “lazy” as a direct result of their raising.

“Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he continued, likely meaning perish in his statement.

He blamed the calls for basic services like heat and electricity a product of a “socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts.”

He closed by telling locals to “quit crying,” adding, “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”

Source: KTXS

Mayor Doubles Down, Says He Already Resigned

That now-deleted post drew immediate backlash as Texans continue to slam the government for not delivering adequate support amid the storm.

The outrage eventually prompted Boyd to write a follow-up post, which he also later deleted.

In it, he claimed that his comments “were taken out of context” and did not apply to the elderly; however, he continued to double down.

“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used!”

Boyd said he already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. He also said he wished he would’ve kept his words to himself or been more descriptive, and he added that all the anger and harassment since his post has caused his wife to lose her job.

Source: KTXS

Ultimately, he said he was speaking as a citizen since he is no longer mayor and called for the harassment of his family to stop.

According to The Washington Post, it isn’t immediately clear if he resigned before or after writing his controversial Facebook post. As of early Wednesday morning, the paper noted that he was still listed as mayor on Colorado City’s website, and city council agendas showed that he had served in that role as recently as last week.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KTXS) (People)

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