A U.S. District Court Judge’s ruling in Texas striking down the entire Affordable Care Act rallied the law’s supporters including doctors, hospitals, patient advocates and insurance companies in the latest fight against Republican efforts to kill the landmark legislation.
Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the ACA’s individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance is unconstitutional, saying it “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power.”
Though the judge’s ruling is certain to be appealed, supporters rallied to the defense of the ACA, saying the district court in Fort Worth has put the healthcare of more than 20 million Americans at risk.
“Today’s decision is an unfortunate step backward for our health system that is contrary to overwhelming public sentiment to preserve pre-existing condition protections and other policies that have extended health insurance coverage to millions of Americans,” AMA president Dr. Barbara L. McAneny said Friday night. “It will destabilize health insurance coverage by rolling back federal policy to 2009. No one wants to go back to the days of 20 percent of the population uninsured and fewer patient protections, but this decision will move us in that direction.”
The ruling came on the eve of the last day of open enrollment for the ACA’s health benefits slated to begin in 2019. Between subsidized individual coverage sold by private insurers and the expansion of Medicaid benefits for poor Americans, more than 20 million people have gained health coverage since President Barack Obama signed the ACA into law in 2010.
If the ruling stands, it threatens to leave millions of Americans, “including many with pre-existing conditions—little hope for affordable health care coverage and financial stability,” said Dr. Bruce Siegel, CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, which represent public hospitals and health systems across the country.
The American Hospital Association urged “a stay in this decision until a higher court can review it and will continue advocating for protecting patient care and coverage,” the powerful hospital lobby said in a statement Friday night. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice upheld the ACA.
“The ruling puts health coverage at risk for tens of millions of Americans, including those with chronic and pre-existing conditions, while also making it more difficult for hospitals and health systems to provide access to high-quality care,” American Hospital Association president and CEO Rick Pollack said. “We strongly disagree with the ruling and urged the court not to accept the plaintiff’s severability argument in an amicus brief filed earlier this year along with other national organizations representing hospitals and health systems.”
Judge O’Connor’s ruling was a victory for Republican attorneys general who brought the case. Healthcare providers have been fighting the effort by GOP attorneys general and governors and their efforts to declare as unconstitutional protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
“We argued in an amicus brief before the court that provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affecting patients with pre-existing conditions, and those covered by Medicaid and Medicare should remain law regardless of what the court ruled on the individual mandate,” America’s Health Insurance Plans CEO Matt Eyles said Friday night. AHIP represents health insurers including Centene, Anthem, Oscar Health and most Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans that sell coverage on the ACA’s public exchanges.
“The district court’s decision is misguided and wrong,” AHIP’s Eyles said. “This decision denies coverage to more than 100 million Americans, including seniors, veterans, children, people with disabilities, hardworking Americans with low-incomes, young adults on their parents’ plans until age 26, and millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.”