A Texas judge’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional left many Connecticut lawmakers and health care officials scrambling, both to express their outrage at the decision and to assure residents that their insurance coverage would not be going away anytime soon.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s Dec. 14 ruling involves a lawsuit brought by 20 Republican attorneys general, including Texas’ Ken Paxton. O’Connor agreed with the group’s argument that all of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional due to a recent change in federal tax law.
That change, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, held that the ACA’s individual mandate, which levied a financial penalty on those who did not have health insurance coverage, could be interpreted as a tax.
Once Congress set that tax at zero dollars, the Texas coalition claimed the rest of the law was no longer constitutional.
Over the weekend Access Health CT (AHCT) announced an extension for the 2019 health insurance open enrollment period, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15. Customers who signed up for health insurance plans through AHCT by the Dec. 15 deadline will have coverage that starts Jan. 1, while those who enroll by Jan. 15 will have coverage that begins Feb. 1.
“We are committed to upholding the ACA and the support it provides to the residents of our state,” said AHCT CEO James Michel. “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 for them and their families.”
AHCT also extended its open enrollment deadline last year, though that was by just one week and was due to the exchange’s two carriers, Anthem and ConnectiCare, agreeing to continue offering plans on AHCT through 2018.
“With this extension,” Michel said, “Access Health CT is encouraging customers who are currently covered by an insurance plan for 2019 to come and evaluate their options as they may find savings or lower premiums by choosing a different plan that better fits their needs and budget.”
Michel noted that AHCT customers who were automatically enrolled in coverage for 2019 may find a plan that better fits their needs. If they want to make a change after Dec. 15, they can, with the new plan again having a start date of Feb. 1.
Meanwhile, Connecticut Democrats blasted the Texas ruling, with Gov. Dannel Malloy noting that should the decision stand, those with pre-existing conditions would once again be denied coverage when they get sick.
“Republicans in Washington and Connecticut have spent years trying to do exactly what this ruling would impose,” Malloy tweeted. “It’s nothing short of despicable, and Connecticut will fight in court to preserve the #ACA.”
“This is a five-alarm fire,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. “Republicans just blew up our health care system. The anti-health care zealots in the Republican Party are intentionally ripping health care away from the working poor, increasing costs on seniors and making insurance harder to afford for people with preexisting conditions.
“Don’t be fooled,” Murphy continued. “This rests 100 percent on the shoulders of President Trump and Republicans in Congress who empower him. Trump took the extraordinary step of sending his lawyers to argue to end health coverage for 20 million people and he got his wish. Not a single Senate Republican challenged him and now they own this disaster as much as he does.”
“I was surprised and disappointed” by the Texas ruling, Dr. John Murphy, president and CEO of the Western Connecticut Health Network, told the Business Journal. “The inevitable result could be, if the ruling stands, an increase in the number of uninsured.”
Murphy noted that the Congressional Budget Office earlier this year said that up to 4 million fewer people would sign up on the exchanges for 2019 as a result of the elimination of the individual mandate. Early estimates have held that less than 2 million people have taken that route, though that still represents a 17 percent decrease from 2018.
A spokesperson for AHCT said that, while numbers through Dec. 15 had not been finalized, such a decrease was not obvious within the state.
Attorneys general from 17 states defending the ACA in the Texas lawsuit, including Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, said they are preparing to challenge the decision – something the White House acknowledged would likely occur.
“We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court,” the White House said in a statement. “Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place.”
Murphy also said he believed the Texas ruling would be appealed.
Should the ACA truly be eliminated as a whole, Murphy said, “The question becomes, what do you put in its place? Next month you’ll have a Democrat-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate. I don’t really see a solution emerging from those two divergently opposed positions.”