By Robert Pear
The New York Times, June 7, 2018
The Trump administration told a federal court on Thursday that it would no longer defend crucial provisions of the Affordable Care Act that protect consumers with pre-existing medical conditions.
Under those provisions of the law, insurance companies cannot deny coverage or charge higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions.
The Justice Department said the provisions were part of an unconstitutional scheme that required most Americans to carry health insurance.
In a court case filed by Texas and 19 other states, the Justice Department said in a brief on Thursday that the requirement for people to have insurance — the individual mandate — was unconstitutional.
If that argument is accepted by the federal court, it could eviscerate major parts of the Affordable Care Act that remain in place despite numerous attacks by President Trump and his administration. Insurers could again deny people coverage because of their medical condition or history.
The Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in 2012 as an exercise of the government’s power to tax. But since Congress repealed the tax last year, the mandate and the law’s consumer protections can no longer be justified, the Justice Department said.
The mandate cannot be interpreted as a tax “because it will raise no revenue as Congress has eliminated the monetary penalty,” the department said in a brief filed in the Federal District Court in Fort Worth.
The Justice Department said that the protections for people with pre-existing conditions were inseparable from the individual mandate and must also be struck down.
But it did not go as far as Texas and the other states, which argued that all of the Affordable Care Act and the regulations issued under it were now invalid.
The 2010 health care law includes many other provisions, such as the creation of health insurance marketplaces, premium subsidies for low- and moderate-income people and expansion of the Medicaid program, as well as changes in Medicare and public health services.
The Justice Department did not challenge those provisions of the law. Indeed, it said, they can continue to operate without the individual mandate.
By contrast, the department said, the Supreme Court held that the individual mandate was “closely intertwined” with the requirement for insurers to offer coverage to all consumers at the same basic prices, regardless of their health status.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday notifying them that he would not defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate or the requirement for insurers to sell insurance to all applicants at standard rates — the “guaranteed issue” and “community rating” provisions.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Amongst the more important provisions of the Affordable Care Act were the requirements for guaranteed issue and community rating. For individuals with preexisting conditions, insurers could not deny them coverage nor could they charge them higher premiums than are charged for others in the same age group. This corrected two of the most serious defects in the individual insurance market that existed before enactment of ACA and made insurance available to many who otherwise could not purchase the plans.
Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that he will no longer defend these provisions. If the courts uphold his position, individuals with significant health care needs may find insurance with adequate benefits to be either unaffordable or not even available to them. Then concepts such as “universal” or “affordable” become moot.
How does this compare to our traditional Medicare program? The courts have already ruled that Part A of Medicare – the hospital benefit – is mandatory and must be accepted if the individual also accepts Social Security benefits. However, this does not apply to Part B – the physician benefits – nor to Part D – the drug benefits. Thus the courts have ruled that the government can require certain mandates in health care, but it also demonstrates that our current Medicare program needs to be improved, for this and for a great many other reasons. So a single payer, improved Medicare for all should be able to pass constitutional muster.
Once we have an improved Medicare that covers everyone, instead of thinking of it as some sort of unwanted government mandate, most of us would think of it as an automatic program ensuring health care financing for all of us – one that we have earned though our individual contributions based on ability to pay – guaranteed, affordable health care forever.
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