Women’s Health Is in the Hands of the Supreme Court

OK, I admit it. I’ve become obsessed with SCOTUS Blog. During the last week, I’ve spent hours at my computer, watching lawyers live blog as the Supreme Court announced its decisions.

I’m a passionate women’s health activist, and this is not where I wanted to be spending my time. No complaints about SCOTUS Blog itself. It’s a wonderful resource. There’s really no other way that activists can find out, in real time, the legal details of the Supreme Court’s decisions. And those details are important. Really important.

Why am I obsessed with SCOTUS Blog right now? Because nine justices may be about to take health insurance subsidies away from more than 4 million women. That’s right. Over 4 million women could lose the insurance subsidies they now have if the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs in the King vs. Burwell case.

This case challenges the authority of the federal government to provide insurance subsidies, via tax credits, to people who live in the 34 states that have not established their own health-insurance marketplaces. If the court goes the wrong way, at least 4 million women who currently have subsidies, and even more who could be eligible for this help, will suddenly find themselves faced with monthly premiums that are $200, $300 or even $500 more. This may be a conservative estimate considering women earn less than men on average and are thus more likely to receive subsidies.

These subsidies average $272 per month. Could you afford to pay an extra $272 for your health insurance next month? Probably not. And finding that extra money on short notice will be especially tough for low-income women. Without subsidies, health-care coverage will be out of reach.

The decision could also be very bad for women of color—1.4 million will be impacted by a bad Supreme Court decision.

The Affordable Care Act was designed to help people get health-care coverage no matter where they live. Opponents of the ACA have persuaded many politicians in conservative states to make opposition to the ACA part of their strategy to win elections. As a result of these Republican-controlled state legislatures, policymakers in 34 states refused to set up and run their own exchanges, and 19 states have refused to accept federal funds to expand eligibility for Medicaid.

I work with a fantastic group of activists in the Raising Women’s Voices network who are working hard to make the promise of health reform real for women in states from Louisiana to Maine. All of us are ready to speak out and take action on behalf of women as soon as the decision is announced. Whether the court’s decision is good or bad, there’s work to be done to ensure that all women, no matter where they live, have access to high quality health care that meets their needs. I can’t wait till I can stop watching SCOTUS Blog and get back to work!

Photo via Shutterstock


Cindy Pearson is Executive Director of the National Women's Health Network and co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need.