Becerra spoke with California Healthline’s Samantha Young about his defense of Obamacare and the far-reaching influence of the law. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What are the chances the Supreme Court could overturn the Affordable Care Act?
We’re confident they will see not just the legal logic behind it, but the wisdom and the practical success of the Affordable Care Act — all of which weigh heavily in favor of the justices recognizing that it’s not only legal but indispensable. When the justices look to the fundamentals of the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to find that it is constitutional.
Q: The makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court has changed since it last ruled on the ACA. Why do you think these justices will rule the same way?
That shouldn’t change the fact that the fundamentals of the law have remained the same. The fundamentals of the ACA are grounded, they’re solid and they work. I would hope that nine justices reviewing the same law would look at that precedent.
Q: What should the public pay attention to during the oral arguments?
One interesting thing to watch is how the court interprets the actions taken by Congress in 2017 when they passed the tax break bill and zeroed out the individual mandate fee or penalty. Now, we’re looking at a president and at least one house in Congress that’s prepared to defend the Affordable Care Act. How might the court look at the fact that another Congress could reinstitute part of that mandate?
What does that do to the legal argument that having zeroed out the mandate somehow triggered the unconstitutionality of the entire law? I think that’s a question the court will have to examine.
Q: What happens if the U.S. Supreme Court declares the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional?
The worries return. Preventative care under Medicare would be gone. The days when Americans don’t have to worry about going personally bankrupt for having visited a hospital would pretty much be gone.
I’ve got three daughters. There was a time when all three of them as adults were on our health care coverage. That would be gone because the provision that allows adult children under the age of 26 to remain on a parent’s coverage would disappear. I could go on and on.
Q: Could states, including California, afford to step in on their own?
I don’t know if there’s any state who has the capacity to replace what the Affordable Care Act does. It’d be almost insurmountable. Part of that is because we can’t replicate some of the things that the federal government can do. We don’t have that federal jurisdiction, we don’t have that breadth and depth of reach.
Q: If the court overturns the ACA, can’t Congress pass piecemeal protections that have Republican support, such as coverage for preexisting conditions?
We have heard Republicans say “repeal and replace” for more than 10 years, and it’s been empty rhetoric from the beginning. I’ve gotta tell you that for parents who have children with preexisting medical conditions, it is no comfort to have someone promise you that they will replace a right that you know you now have for your child to visit a hospital. And, why would you throw that away for an empty promise that’s 10 years old?
Most Americans would say, keep building on the Affordable Care Act. Let’s make it better, but don’t scrap what’s worked.
Q: How do you know the Affordable Care Act is working?
My former congressional district in Los Angeles ranked among the most uninsured congressional districts in the nation. In a matter of years, once the Affordable Care Act took place, the uninsured rate in that congressional district had gone down by 50%. It was just astronomical.
The Affordable Care Act made it possible for working families to secure coverage and that’s huge. That’s the kind of burden that’s lifted off your soul.
Q: Do you think having a President Joe Biden and a Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House will lead to an improved Affordable Care Act?
As a candidate for president, Joe Biden said that he would build on the success of the Obama-Biden presidency and make sure that we continue to increase the number of Americans who have access to affordable health care. The good thing is you finally have someone at the top of the totem pole who says we’re going to make it better. And that’s why this election was so important.
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