Connecticut Attorney General William Tong on Thursday said he will join other “blue” states in appealing a federal court’s decision that puts the future of the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy.
“We will continue our fight against the attack on our nation’s healthcare system and the millions of Americans who have gained coverage and quality healthcare under the Affordable Care Act,” Tong said.
The decision of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals puts at risk health care coverage for 250,000 Connecticut residents who have benefited from the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid.
Also at stake, according to Tong and other ACA defenders, is coverage for adults younger than 26 who are eligible for coverage under their parent’s health insurance policies and nearly half a million Connecticut residents with pre-existing health conditions who are guaranteed coverage under the health care law.
“Connecticut will join its sister states in taking swift action to challenge this faulty and flawed decision. We will continue our fight for affordable healthcare, and to protect Connecticut families,” Tong said.
In a two-to-one decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday struck down the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate,” the requirement that most Americans have health insurance, as unconstitutional because a massive tax bill had eliminated the penalty for those who did not comply.
A lower federal court in Texas previously ruled that, because the mandate was unconstitutional, the whole health care law was unconstitutional.
Connecticut joined the group of Democratic attorneys general, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in defending the ACA against a group of 18 Republican attorneys general who challenged the health care law’s constitutionality.
But the appeals court ruling largely ducked the central question of whether the rest of the Affordable Care Act remained valid after Congress removed the penalty for not having health insurance. The three-judge panel instead sent the case back to the lower court in Texas.
“We are ready to act,” Becerra said. “It’s time to end this uncertainty.”
The ruling keeps the legal threat to the ACA alive during an election year because it’s unlikely the Supreme Court could render a final verdict on the law before the next election.
In any case, the Affordable Care Act will remain in effect at least through 2020. In Connecticut, enrollment in the state’s ACA exchange, Access Health CT, has been extended to Jan. 15 for coverage that begins Feb. 1.
“The most important thing to understand is that for now, nothing changes,” said Patricia Baker, head of the Connecticut Health Foundation. “The open enrollment period to buy health insurance for 2020 through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, remains in effect, and federal financial aid is still available to help people pay for their coverage. The existing rules about coverage still apply.”
Still, the appeals court’s decision was decried by ACA supporters.
“This appalling court decision puts the health care of hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents at risk,” said Frances G. Padilla, president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. “Our country’s leaders should work to expand access to quality, affordable health care for everyone, rather than take it away.”
The foundation said the ruling puts nearly $2 billion of federal funding for Access Health CT subsidies at risk, affecting about 75,000 state residents.
On Thursday, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted, “So two enormous events happened yesterday, but FYI the one that could likely have the biggest impact on people’s day to day lives isn’t impeachment. It’s the GOP prompted 5th Circuit Court decision that could lead to end insurance coverage for 20 million Americans.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, tweeted: “The 5th Circuit’s decision to send the Affordable Care Act lawsuit back to a partisan hack is shameful and cowardly.”
“Trump and his Republicans enablers bear all responsibility for putting millions of Americans’ lives on the line,” DeLauro said.
Gov. Ned Lamont and lawmakers are exploring incremental changes aimed at halting, or at least slowing, the rising costs of health insurance premiums, prescription drugs and other elements of health care at the state level. But the reforms wouldn’t provide many of the broad protections and subsidies guaranteed by the ACA.
“Right now, millions of Americans are having their access to health care used as a political pawn, and it is appalling and reckless,” Lamont said Thursday. “Instead of taking cheap shots with the goal of eliminating access to affordable care, we should be working to protect that care and reduce the cost even further.”