A Judicial Body Blow to the ACA

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Opponents of the Affordable Care Act may have stopped trying to overturn the entire law in court, but they have not stopped challenging pieces of it — and they have found an ally in Fort Worth, Texas: U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor. In 2018, O’Connor held that the entire ACA was unconstitutional — a ruling eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. Now the judge has found that part of the law’s requirement for insurers to cover preventive care without copays violates a federal religious freedom law.

In a boost for the health law, though, North Carolina has become the 40th state to expand the Medicaid program to lower-income people who were previously ineligible. Even though the federal government will pay 90% of the cost of expansion, a broad swath of states — mostly in the South — have resisted widening eligibility for the program.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call.


Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Thursday’s decision out of Texas affects health plans nationwide and is expected to disrupt the health insurance market, which for years has provided preventive care without cost sharing under the ACA. Even if the decision survives a likely appeal, insurers could continue offering the popular, generally not-so-costly benefits, but they would no longer be required to do so.
  • The decision, which found that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force cannot mandate coverage requirements, hinges on religious freedom objections to plans covering PrEP, the HIV medication, alongside other preventive care.
  • Speaking of the ACA, this week North Carolina became the latest state to expand Medicaid coverage under the health law, which will render an estimated 600,000 residents newly eligible for the program. The development comes amid reports about hospitals struggling to cover uncompensated care, particularly in the 10 states that have resisted expanding Medicaid.
  • Pushback against Medicaid expansion has contributed over the years to a yawning coverage divide between politically “blue” and “red” states, with liberal-leaning states pushing to cover more services and people, while conservative-leaning states home in on policies that limit coverage, like work requirements.
  • On the abortion front, state attorneys general are challenging the FDA’s authority on the abortion pill — not only in Texas, but also in Washington state, where Democratic state officials are fighting the FDA’s existing restrictions on prescribing and dispensing the drug. The Biden administration has adopted a similar argument as it has in the Texas case challenging the agency’s original approval of the abortion pill: Let the FDA do its job and impose restrictions it deems appropriate, the administration says.
  • The FDA is poised to make a long-awaited decision on an over-the-counter birth control pill, an option already available in other countries. One key unknown, though, is whether the agency would impose age restrictions on access to it.
  • And as of this week, 160 Defense Department promotions have stalled over one Republican senator’s objections to a Pentagon policy regarding federal payments to service members traveling to obtain abortions.

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Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: New York Magazine/The Cut’s “Abortion Wins Elections: The Fight to Make Reproductive Rights the Centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s 2024 Agenda,” by Rebecca Traister.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Stat’s “How the Drug Industry Uses Fear of Fentanyl to Extract More Profit From Naloxone,” by Lev Facher.

Rachel Cohrs: The Washington Post’s “These Women Survived Combat. Then They Had to Fight for Health Care,” by Hope Hodge Seck.

Sandhya Raman: Capital B’s “What the Covid-19 Pandemic and Mpox Outbreak Taught Us About Reducing Health Disparities,” by Margo Snipe and Kenya Hunter.

Also mentioned in this week’s podcast:

  • The New York Times’ “‘We’re Going Away’: A State’s Choice to Forgo Medicaid Funds Is Killing Hospitals,” by Sharon LaFraniere.
  • KHN’s “Fresh Produce Is an Increasingly Popular Prescription for Chronically Ill Patients,” by Carly Graf.
  • California Healthline’s “Prescription for Housing? California Wants Medicaid to Cover 6 Months of Rent,” by Angela Hart.


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