Obamacare is precarious yet entrenched as 2019 approaches. Even many of the GOP-led states seeking to knock it down in court would be in a real bind should they succeed.
Of the 20 states involved in a high-profile Texas-led lawsuit arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, nearly half have already accepted its extra dollars to expand their Medicaid programs or are moving that direction. States don’t have to expand Medicaid under a 2012 Supreme Court decision, but most have found it advantageous because the federal government foots most of the bill.
These states — nine in total — would suddenly be facing a much larger expense for hundreds of thousands of low-income earners newly enrolled in Medicaid under the ACA, should last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor rolling back the entire health-care law ultimately stand.
They include Louisiana, North Dakota and West Virginia, along with Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana, three states that expanded Medicaid but with some modifications. In three other states — Maine, Nebraska and Utah — voters approved ballot initiatives adopting expansion.
Yet these states are asking the courts to overthrow not just Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions – the part of the lawsuit that has gotten the most attention — but also the entire sweeping law, which is now firmly a part of the country’s health-care ecosystem eight years since its passage. More than 12 million people have become eligible for Medicaid since ACA passage, while another 11 million have enrolled in the ACA’s federally subsidized private marketplaces.
“God help us all, because the dark age is not that far from us again,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “It will be worse than before because there won’t be the money to help rural clinics and hospitals.”
Developments in the past week — including the court ruling and slightly lagging marketplace enrollment figures released yesterday by the Trump administration — underscore the political divides dogging Obamacare even though Republicans in Congress and at the state level have embraced some of its major components.
Nearly 8.5 million people signed up for 2019 plans in the 39 states using the HealthCare.gov website (the other states run their own marketplaces), per figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Enrollment was just 4 percent less than a year ago, due to a last-minute rush that suggests consumers were undeterred by the court ruling, our Washington Post colleague Amy Goldstein reports.
“After lagging by about 11 percent most of the six weeks of open enrollment — a shortened period adopted by the Trump administration a year ago — the more than 400,000 who selected coverage during the final week actually exceeded the year before,” Amy writes.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma seemed unperturbed by the reduced enrollment numbers, saying they merely show new GOP and administration policies to roll back some ACA requirements on insurers and consumers are working.
But if the entire law gets scrapped by the Supreme Court ( we should note, the case still has a long way to go in the legal system), it will quickly become clear the ACA — for whatever its faults — has extended benefits to Americans they’ve now come to expect. Despite their persistent rhetoric against the law, Republicans have found it politically necessary to embrace big parts of it, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions — and, in some states, its Medicaid expansion.
Case in point: West Virginia. Its Republican attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, has joined the lawsuit against Obamacare even though the state embraced its Medicaid expansion, growing its enrollment in the program by nearly one-third.The federal government covers more than 90 percent of the cost of the newly eligible enrollees.
When I asked Morrisey’s office about what striking the ACA would mean for Medicaid recipients, his office provided a statement praising O’Connor’s ruling and discussing premium hikes in the marketplaces — but didn’t mention Medicaid.
“Our nation must move beyond Obamacare, innovate, provide more choices to consumers, and attack the skyrocketing premiums that have caused such pain and hardship on West Virginian and American families,” the statement said.
In some cases, the decisions by state attorneys general to join the anti-ACA lawsuit has put them at odds with their governor. Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, moved quickly to expand Medicaid when he took office in 2016. Nearly half a million people have enrolled in Medicaid since then, growing the state’s program by 27 percent.
Edwards hasn’t hidden his disdain for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R), who has called the law an “unconstitutional overreach.” Edwards issued a critical statement after last Friday’s decision.
“This was a short-sighted lawsuit, to say the least,” Edwards said in a statement. “I intend to vigorously pursue legislation to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance and ensuring the working people of our state aren’t penalized because of this decision.”