Threatening Coverage for 600,000 Coloradans During Pandemic and Economic Crisis
DENVER, Colo. – On Tuesday, just as the open enrollment period for health insurance has begun and as the COVID pandemic hits record levels, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the latest major challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Brought by Texas and 19 other Republican-led states and backed by the Trump administration, Texas v. Azar could strip access to health care for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans.
Through the 2017 tax bill, Congress repealed the ACA’s penalty for the individual mandate meant to ensure that everyone has health insurance. Now Republicans contend that without any tax penalty to enforce it, the ACA is unconstitutional and thus the entire law should be struck down.
“If this ill-founded legal assault is successful, it will throw the health care system into chaos in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession,” said Adam Fox, deputy director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. “Some 600,000 Coloradans would lose coverage at a time when we need everyone to stay covered to protect the health of one another.”
“While the ACA has been under repeated attack from the Trump administration, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the bench, the threat has taken on a new level of urgency,” Fox continued. “The new Justice has criticized previous decisions to uphold the Affordable Care Act.”
The Supreme Court is likely to decide the case in the first half of 2021 when both the unemployment rate and the public health crisis will likely still be devastating. Even before the COVID hit, an ACA repeal was projected to cause 20 million people to lose coverage nationally. Many more would likely lose coverage if the law is repealed now.
Many of the estimated 500,000 Coloradans who have already lost health coverage during the recession are currently eligible for coverage thanks to the ACA. Many will qualify for coverage through Health First Colorado, Colorado’s Medicaid program, which Colorado expanded under the ACA, while some will qualify for financial assistance (premium tax credits) for private insurance through Connect for Health Colorado.
Both the Medicaid expansion and the financial assistance that help moderate-income people afford private coverage in the health insurance marketplaces would be eliminated if the ACA is struck down.
Research shows the ACA has improved access to care, financial security, and health outcomes – with strong evidence that both Medicaid expansion and coverage through the ACA marketplaces save lives.
The ACA also significantly narrowed racial disparities in health coverage, and the lawsuit would widen them. Based on pre-crisis estimates, repeal would cause nearly 1 in 10 Black people under age 65 and 1 in 10 Hispanic people under age 65 to lose their health insurance, compared to about 1 in 16 white people.
Coverage losses from the lawsuit would also lead to spikes in uncompensated care costs that would add to the financial burden on state and local budgets during an unprecedented state budget crisis. This would harm providers whose business models now rely on the expanded coverage of the ACA and are grappling with impacts of the pandemic.
“The ACA has bolstered Colorado’s ability to deal with both the pandemic and the resulting economic recession,” said Fox. “Striking down the law through this manufactured lawsuit would impede efforts to end the public health crisis and economic fallout while threatening the lives of countless Coloradans. At a time like this, we should be protecting the coverage options created through the ACA and increasing funding to Medicaid, not putting them in jeopardy.”
Coloradans should still enroll in coverage to protect their health and financial security during this open enrollment period, which runs until January 15th, through Connect for Health Colorado.