As oral arguments were being heard Tuesday by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana in a multi-state lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, Connecticut senators at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., were making the case as to why Americans need the federal health care law.
Sen. Chris Murphy said eliminating the ACA without any replacement plan in place would result in a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The choice today is between the Affordable Care Act, which insures over 20 million Americans, which guarantees that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be discriminated against,” he said on the floor of the Senate, “and nothing, no protections, no expansion of Medicaid, no subsidies for individuals to buy private insurance.”
The latest challenge to the federal health care law comes in a lawsuit being led by 20 GOP state attorneys general who say that the ACA is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joined 20 other state attorneys general who are defending the health care law in court.
The plaintiffs’ argument in Louisiana centers around one of the original components of the ACA, which was the tax penalty imposed on people who didn’t enroll in any health insurance plans. Congress eliminated that penalty, and that elimination took effect this year.
The lawsuit states that if there’s no longer a tax penalty for what was the individual mandate, then the entire health care law should be invalidated. A federal judge in Texas ruled in favor of that argument, and now attorneys fighting to defend the ACA are challenging that decision in the appeals court.
If the Fifth Circuit judges rule in favor of GOP attorneys, the case is more likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court where the health care law could be overturned in a final ruling.
“What’s been going on the last few years has done nothing but raise everyone’s blood pressure,” said John Cogan, a professor at UConn School of Law. “Everyone from the insured to policy experts to the insurance companies—nobody knows what’s coming next.”
Cogan, who specializes in health care law, said a repeal of this size without any new health care reform programs in place would put millions of Americans in jeopardy of losing insurance, including about 300,000 mostly low-income people in Connecticut.
“For anybody who is really poor, elderly or sick, they’re going to have an increase in mortality and morbidity,” he said. “They’re going to be more likely to die and more likely to get sick if they lose their insurance.”
If the lawsuit succeeds and the entire federal health care law goes away, both people with insurance through the ACA and people with private employer-based insurance will likely be impacted.
Things like guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps on health care costs, coverage of dependent children up to age 26, essential health benefits like free preventative screenings and all of the Medicaid expansion programs could be reduced or eliminated.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who spoke in the Senate Tuesday, said this would hurt people like Conner Curran, 8, of Ridgefield. The boy was diagnosed three years ago with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative terminal disease that costs tens of thousands of dollars a year for care.
“The reinstatement of lifetime caps or the elimination of essential health benefits will hinder his family’s ability to access the care Conner needs,” Blumenthal said. “In fact, if this lawsuit wins, there will be virtually insuperable obstacles to Conner receiving that vital, lifesaving care.”
The ACA has been challenged several times in Congress and in court over the last several years, with varying outcomes. While Cogan said he and many other experts in health care law think the GOP attorneys’ arguments in this case are weak, the court’s decision may not reflect that.
“Every major case that’s come up, law professors have said, ‘this case is a loser, it’s never going to go’ and then they all wind up at the Supreme Court and we sort of get surprising results,” he said.
A decision on the lawsuit by judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans could be made sometime later this year.