The Latest Assault on the Affordable Care Act

By Jill Zorn |

Last Friday, a federal judge in Texas did his best to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  But, for now, it is still standing.

This particular ruling actually attempts to strike down the entire law – going beyond invalidating the expansion of coverage.  By attacking the entire law, the ruling also threatens such popular provisions as allowing people to obtain coverage even if they have pre-existing conditions, requiring no out-of-pocket expenses for certain preventive care services and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ private coverage until they turn 26.

Given the unsuccessful attempt by the Trump Administration and Congress to repeal the ACA in 2017, this case is just the latest attempt to gut the law instead via judicial ruling, state action or administrative sabotage.

The legal case, brought by 20 state Attorneys General, was applauded by the Trump Administration, which took the unusual step of refusing to defend a federal law in court.

Connecticut Continues to Protect its Residents

Thankfully, Connecticut is a state that is doing its best to implement and preserve the ACA.  In fact, we are one of 17 states that signed on to defend the law in this case.  Current Attorney General George Jepsen said, “We are actively discussing next steps in the case with our colleagues in other states, and we anticipate joining them in appealing this decision.” Incoming Attorney General William Tong will doubtless keep Connecticut on the right side of this lawsuit.

On the same day this decision came out, Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace, announced that residents have an extra month to sign up for insurance, extending open enrollment until January 15, 2019.  CEO James Michel said, “We will not let this news get in the way of fulfilling our mission to reduce the rate of the uninsured and help Connecticut residents get health insurance coverage.”

Connecticut has also put into state statute protections for people with pre-existing conditions and passed a law in the 2018 legislative session, HB 5210, to require insurance to continue to cover an array of essential benefits currently required by the ACA, including hospitalization, emergency care, prescription drugs and women’s health services.  However, most employers who insure their workers in Connecticut, particularly larger companies, unions or municipalities, operate self-funded plans that can only be regulated by the federal government.  (To read more about self-insured plans go HERE).  So, many people with private insurance are not currently protected by the very good laws that we have passed in Connecticut – they are relying on the federal protections in the ACA to stay in place.

What Happens Next?

Legal experts, including Nicholas Bagley writing in the Washington Post and Yale Professor Abbe Gluck writing in the New York Times, project that the judge’s decision faces serious hurdles as it is appealed.

But the fact that this ruling came out after the recent midterm elections, where health care was the number one issue on voters’ minds, and support for pre-existing condition protections continues to be high, is troubling.  We cannot rest easy as long as activist judges, Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration are pushing an extreme agenda to roll back the ACA.

Here at the Foundation, we had been aware of this legal challenge to the ACA.  Now that it is out, we will continue to monitor its progress as it wends its way through the courts.  Access to health care is a right, not a privilege. We need to move forward to ensure everyone has quality, affordable coverage and stop trying to take health care away from people.

Editorial Note

Perhaps one positive result of this terrible legal decision is that determination for a bigger and better approach to fixing our battered health care system is growing.  As Ezra Klein wrote in Vox, “With Obamacare under constant threat, Republicans have refocused Democrats on building what they failed to build in 2010: a universal health care system simple enough and popular enough that it is safe from constant political and legal assault.  And that means some version of Medicare-for-all.”