Judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans this week found that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate -- the requirement that residents buy health insurance or pay a fine -- is unconstitutional.
But they held off from saying that the entire law is invalid, sending the case back to a lower court in Texas for more analysis into which parts of the federal law can continue without the individual mandate.
While the ruling has no immediate impacts on the ACA marketplaces, current insurance plans and residents, it does set up further challenges to the health care law. GOP lawmakers and state governors continue their pursuit to dismantle the ACA, while Democratic legislators and governors pledge to defend it.
“Connecticut will join its sister states in taking swift action to challenge this faulty and flawed decision,” Connecticut Attorney Gen. William Tong said in a statement. “We will continue our fight for affordable health care, and to protect Connecticut families.”
According to a 2017 Connecticut Health Foundation report, more than 160,000 residents who got health care coverage because of the ACA would likely become uninsured should the entire law be repealed. That would add to the 187,000 residents who remain uninsured.
Residents with employer-sponsored policies or other types of insurance could also be affected -- parts of the ACA currently include zero-copay preventive care, elimination of lifetime limits on health care costs, protections for people with preexisting conditions and more.
“If the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturns the Affordable Care Act, it would have significant effects on Connecticut residents,” Patricia Baker, CEO and president of the Connecticut Health Foundation, said in a statement. “The Affordable Care Act is the reason many thousands of state residents now have health care coverage and Connecticut’s uninsured rate is dramatically lower than a decade ago.”
Other Connecticut health organizations and legislators denounced the court’s decision this week.
In a statement, Frances G. Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, called the decision “appalling” and said nearly $2 billion in federal funding for subsidies through Access Health CT, the state's exchange, are at risk.
“We will not stand by and watch this judicial train wreck,” Padilla said. “Connecticut residents must demand that no retreat from the ACA is acceptable without replacement of the coverage and protections they rely on.”
Democratic Sen. Matt Lesser, who serves as the chair of the state’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said in a statement that the ruling is a “reckless partisan decision by a right-wing panel of judges” that jeopardizes the health care of millions of people.
“Here in Connecticut all options are on the table as we consider our next steps to protect the health care of Connecticut residents,” Lesser said. “This decision, if allowed to stand and carried to its logical conclusion, could be disastrous for our state. This should light a fire under the legislature and Governor Lamont to act quickly on health reform.”
Access Health CT earlier this week announced that it would extend this year’s open enrollment period to Jan. 15. Plans and policies for 2020 are not affected by the recent ruling.