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Espy ‘Worried’ 600,000 Mississippians Could Lose Health Care as Trump Rushes Court Nominee

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy, seen here at a 2018 campaign event, says the Senate should not confirm a new U.S. Supreme Court justice until after the presidential inauguration. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

Mike Espy, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Mississippi, is worried that as many as 600,000 Mississippians could lose health-insurance coverage as President Donald Trump continues his effort to remake the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The candidate shared his fear that a more conservative court could strike down protections for people with pre-existing conditions in a press statement on Monday—three days after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death opened up another seat on the high court in Washington, D.C.

“I firmly believe that Mississippians deserve to have their voices heard. It should be up to the next president to nominate a qualified jurist to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat,” Espy said in the Sept. 21 statement.

The Supreme Court is set to hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act after the Nov. 3 election. Ginsburg was among the majorities who voted to uphold the law on two prior occasions. The law, among other things, barred insurance companies from denying coverage to people or charging them more based on pre-existing health conditions.

Legal scholars had expected the law to survive this challenge, too, but the liberal justice’s death has cast doubt on whether President Barack Obama’s signature law will survive.

“I’m worried about the 600,000 Mississippians who could be denied coverage or charged more just because they have a pre-existing condition,” Espy said in his statement yesterday. “Sen. Hyde-Smith has made clear that her only health care goal is to return us to the dark days when anyone with a pre-existing condition was denied coverage.”

During her 2018 debate with Espy, Hyde-Smith declared that “Obamacare is the worst thing that happened to us.” Still, she the senator said she “strongly believes in pre-existing conditions,” referring to patient protections like those in the Affordable Care Act that will be struck if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to invalidate the law as the Trump administration is requesting.

Despite her vocal support for keeping pre-existing conditions protections, Hyde-Smith is supporting the Trump administration’s effort to invalidate the entire law. Neither Hyde-Smith nor other Republicans have proposed legislation to reinstate pre-existing conditions protections if the court strikes them down.

Espy: ‘Mississippians Deserve to Have Their Voices Heard’

The lawsuit could threaten health care for 100,000 Mississippians who currently purchase subsidized health care through the federal exchange on healthcare.gov. They could lose access to affordable health-care options, and the Affordable Care Act’s law that prevents health-care companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions could be nullified.

Espy called Ginsburg a “legal trailblazer” because of her work “standing up for the less fortunate to ensure protections for gender equality, voting rights, civil rights, and health care.” Photo courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

Expanding Medicaid with federal assistance would also no longer be an option for Mississippi if the court invalidated the entire law. Since 2013, the State has refused more than $1 billion in federal assistance a year that could have expanded the State’s Medicaid program and provided health care to as many as 300,000 Mississippians. 

On her deathbed, Justice Ginsburg told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish” was that she would “not be replaced until a new President is installed.”

With Ginsburg on the court, conservative justices outnumbered liberal justices 5-4. If Trump appoints a new justice, as he plans to do, conservative appointees would outnumber liberal ones 6-3—making it more difficult for liberals to challenge voting-rights restrictions, anti-LGBTQ legislation, abortion restrictions and more.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most revered legal minds in the country, standing up for the less fortunate to ensure protections for gender equality, voting rights, civil rights, and health care,” Espy said in his statement on Monday. “I firmly believe that Mississippians deserve to have their voices heard. It should be up to the next president to nominate a qualified jurist to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat.”

Hyde-Smith: ‘I Support the President’s Intention’

Espy’s opponent, incumbent Hyde-Smith, has already vowed to back Trump’s effort to push a nominee through the Senate confirmation process quickly—possibly before the election. Hyde-Smith started her statement with kind words for Ginsburg.

“Justice Ginsburg devoted her life to the law, becoming one of the most respected and influential women in our time. I appreciate her dedication and service to the nation. President Trump and the Senate now have the solemn duty to fill that vacancy, a process that should not be delayed,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement on Sunday. “I take this responsibility seriously, and I support the president’s intention to name a nominee as soon as possible.”

In September 2018, Hyde-Smith similarly declared she had a duty to support Trump’s Supreme Court nominee at the time, Brett Kavanaugh. After Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath in the Senate that Kavanaugh once tried to rape her at a party, Hyde-Smith used her first-ever Senate speech to defend the judge, saying it was her “duty … as the first woman to represent our great state in Congress” to “speak in strong support of Brett Kavanaugh.”

When conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, nine months before the presidential election, Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, insisted that presidents should not be allowed to pick new Supreme Court justices in a presidential election year, blocking President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from getting a hearing in the Senate.

“This decision is too important and too consequential to let this current president make the decision in an election year. The next President should choose Justice Scalia’s replacement and American voters should have an opportunity to speak on this issue,” Wicker said in a 2016 statement.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, seen here seated next to Trump at a 2018 White House meeting, supports his administration’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, left, also backed the lawsuit when he was governor. Photo courtesy White House

On Sunday, though, Wicker took exactly the opposite position, joining Hyde-Smith and McConnell in encouraging Trump to make a speedy pick ahead of the November election.

“President Trump and Senate Republicans promised to confirm well-qualified, conservative judges and justices to the federal courts. We should continue to fulfill this promise and our constitutional duty for all vacancies as long as we are in office. I look forward to consideration of the President’s nominee by the full Senate,” Wicker said in a statement yesterday, offering no explanation for the double standard.

‘Galvanized’ Voters Send Espy $1 Million

Justice Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18 prompted a surge in donations to Espy, who had struggled to gain traction after coming within eight points of defeating Hyde-Smith when he challenged her during the 2018 U.S. Senate special election. By Tuesday morning, Espy had garnered more than $1 million in donations since 7 p.m. Friday.

Kendall Witmer, the Espy campaign’s communications director, told the Mississippi Free Press on Sunday that the campaign amassed $302,000 the day after Ginsburg’s death alone—breaking the single-day fundraising record for a Mississippi candidate for federal office.

The campaign said in a statement today that 23,000 new donors have given to the campaign since Friday, with an average donation of just $23.22. Witmer also told the Mississippi Free Press on Sunday that hundreds of people signed up to volunteer to help make calls and send text messages to voters on behalf of the campaign.

The monetary boost came as a new Tyson Group poll gave Hyde-Smith a 1-point lead over Espy. The poll, conducted in late August among 600 likely Mississippi voters, has a margin of error of +/- 4 points. The same pollster found Hyde-Smith leading by 26 points in a March 2020 poll, just as the novel coronavirus arrived in Mississippi. The Espy campaign has focused relentlessly on health care as its main issue since then, highlighting COVID-19 as an example of the need for greater access to medical services.

As momentum grew over the weekend, the Ditch Mitch Fund, a Democratic political committee that is raising money to defeat the Republican Senate majority and its leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, added Espy to its list of 14 candidates receiving funds, citing polls showing a close race.

In a statement today, the Espy campaign said the $1 million campaign boost came “as a result of galvanized support following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

In his statement on the Supreme Court vacancy yesterday, Espy vowed to “be an independent voice for Mississippi” and “work across the aisle to move Mississippi forward for all.”

“The next Senate should consider a nominee and if I am elected, I will review any nominee’s qualifications for this serious, lifetime appointment,” the Democratic candidate said.

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