People hate shopping for health insurance

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Illustration of a plastic bag with "NO THANK YOU" printed multiple times on it alongside a health plus.

Americans rarely switch to new health plans when the annual insurance-shopping season comes around, even if they could have gotten a better deal, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

The bottom line: People loathe shopping for health plans, and many are bad at it, for one major reason: “It’s just too hard,” Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Bob last year.

Reality check: During any insurance program’s annual enrollment period, most people end up staying with the status quo, if it’s an option, instead of picking a new plan.

  • Fewer than one out of 10 seniors voluntarily switch from one private Medicare Advantage plan to another, according to new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • The same holds true for Medicare’s private prescription drug plans.
  • Most employers don’t usually change insurance carriers, often out of fear of angering workers, and keep plan options limited.
  • Employees, after several reminders from HR, usually default to what they had.
  • Fewer than half of people in the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces actively re-enroll in new plans, even though the market was designed for comparison shopping.
  • Medicaid enrollees in some states have no say in the private plans they get.

Between the lines: Buying health insurance — $20,000 decision for the average family — is more complicated than buying furniture.

  • With consumer products, you pretty much know what you’re getting. With health insurance, you’re making an educated guess of how much health care you’ll use, hoping you’ll need none of it.
  • Health insurance terms and policies also are confusing, which turns people off from the shopping process.

The big picture: Shopping for insurance is difficult enough for most people. Shopping for actual doctors, tests and services is even more difficult and less widespread, and likely won’t change if prices are unlocked.

 

 

 

Critics say ‘junk plans’ are being pushed on ACA exchanges

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/11/20/critics-say-junk-plans-are-being-pushed-aca-exchanges/

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The Trump administration has encouraged consumers to use private brokers, who often make more money if they sell the less robust plans.

The Trump administration is encouraging consumers on the Obamacare individual market to seek help from private brokers, who are permitted to sell short-term health plans that critics deride as “junk” because they don’t protect people with preexisting conditions, or cover costly services such as hospital care, in many cases.

Consumers looking at their health insurance options on the website for the federal marketplace, called healthcare.gov, may be redirected to other enrollment sites, some of which allow consumers to click a tab entitled “short-term plans” and see a list of those plans, often with significantly cheaper premiums. Short-term plans were once barred from the exchanges because they were considered inadequate coverage and do not meet the insurance requirements laid out under the Affordable Care Act. If consumers select a short-term plan, they are directed to call a phone number to finish signing up, according to screenshots provided to The Post.

Critics say that both the sale of short-term plans through private brokers and consumers’ ability to select such plans are the latest examples of Trump administration efforts to weaken the ACA after failing to repeal and replace the law in Congress. The president has repeatedly contended that short-term plans provide “relief” from expensive individual market insurance plans that are unaffordable to many consumers. The rule allowing the sale of such plans was finalized late last year, just weeks before open enrollment, so this is the first year they are widely available.

In addition to these efforts, the administration is also seeking to void the law in court, siding with a group of Republican state attorneys general who argue it is unconstitutional since Congress zeroed out the penalty for not having insurance in its 2017 tax overhaul legislationA trial court in Texas ruled the entire law invalid late last year, and an opinion is expected at any time from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The law is likely to end up in front of the Supreme Court for a third time, possibly amid the 2020 presidential election.

Under the ACA, all health insurance plans have to cover 10 essential health benefits, including maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, emergency room services and mental health. Short-term health plans do not have to cover those services, can discriminate against those with preexisting conditions and set caps on how much they are willing to pay, which is prohibited for Obamacare plans.

Brokers often make higher commissions on short-term plans, health policy experts said, which gives them an incentive to sell them. They are supposed to present ACA-compliant plans to consumers, but are allowed to provide other options, including short-term plans. Some brokers make clear that such plans are not as comprehensive as ACA plans, but experiences differ.

“The whole business model is signing people up for coverage and getting a cut of what they sell, and the place they’re going to make their money is selling these short-term plans,” said Nicholas Bagley, a professor of law at the University of Michigan and proponent of the ACA. Consumers “don’t fully understand the lack of protections if they go over some annual or lifetime [insurance] limit. These plans don’t cover preexisting conditions.”

The administration’s use of outside brokers has prompted nearly two dozen Senate Democrats, including Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala D. Harris and Amy Klobuchar, to send a letter to CMS on Wednesday expressing their concern over the promotion of short-term health plans.

“We are concerned that [CMS] is not only failing to conduct sufficient oversight to protect customers, but is actively emailing consumers to encourage them to obtain coverage through third-party agents and brokers instead of the HealthCare.gov website,” the senators wrote in a letter. Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen orchestrated the effort.

Such plans were previously available for periods of three months or less and could not be renewed, but the administration late last year finalized a rule that allowed for the plans’ availability for up to 12 months, with the option to renew them for up to three years. A federal judge sided with the administration in a court challenge to their expanded availability and upheld the rule in July. Consumers still cannot use government subsidies to purchase short-term plans, however.

“For most of the people buying on the exchanges, this would be worse than what they’ve been buying, especially because the majority of people who buy on exchanges get help with their premiums,” said Allison Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has sent at least five emails so far to individual market consumers encouraging them to use outside brokers, including through a service called Help on Demand, to sign up for health insurance, according to emails obtained by The Post from a recipient of ACA market emails. The agents and brokers must be registered with the federal exchanges, CMS said in a statement, and they help consumers sign up for individual market plans.

“While agents and brokers are required to provide assistance with Exchange, Medicaid and CHIP coverage and are directed to enroll consumers in such coverage options whenever possible, they are not prohibited from sharing information on other coverage options, such as those offered off-Exchange,” a CMS spokeswoman said.

Some critics of the policy say the expanded sale of short-term plans may be one of the factors depressing enrollment in Obamacare plans, which dropped 13 percent in the first three weeks of the sign-up period, compared to the same period last year, according to federal data released Wednesday. During the 2019 open enrollment, 1,924,476 people signed up for individual market plans in the first two weeks of enrollment, compared to 1,669,401 for 2020. Open enrollment ends on Dec. 15.

CMS said it has used Help on Demand for three years, but the agency has increasingly encouraged consumers to seek their advice through emails directing them to the service’s website.

The Trump administration has drastically cut federal funding for “navigators” — grass roots organizations that help people sign up for ACA plans, including those who may not otherwise know they are eligible for coverage. .

Premiums for the most common type of Obamacare plan dropped by 4 percent for 2020, CMS said last month, and the vast majority of consumers on the individual market qualify for government tax subsidies that help cover the cost of their insurance. However, consumers complain about high deductibles and premiums in individual market plans.

 

Health insurers eat higher medical costs

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Image result for 2. Health insurers eat higher medical costs

Almost all of the major health insurance companies are spending more on medical care this year than they have in the past, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

The big picture: Rising prices and more services for some sicker patients are among the many reasons why this is happening. That uptick in spending has freaked out Wall Street, even though insurers are still quite profitable.

Driving the news: Almost all of the eight major publicly traded insurers have shown their medical loss ratio — the percentage of premium revenues they’re spending on medical claims — is rising this year.

  • UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurer in the country, said its loss ratio was 82.4% in the third quarter this year compared with 81% in the same period a year ago.
  • But these companies are handling billions of premium dollars, so any increase in medical claims equates to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending, which they don’t want.

Between the lines: Medical loss ratios are often higher for health plans that cover more older adults, the disabled and the poor, because those groups typically need more care or are in the hospital more frequently.

But costs have been climbing in some commercial markets, too.

  • Anthem executives admitted on their earnings call that the company is dumping some employers with workers who had medical needs and costs that were too high.
  • CVS Health, which now owns Aetna, previously said some middle-market clients had employees that it thought were getting too many services and drugs.
  • CVS “intensified our medical management in those geographies,” an executive said on the earnings call.

The bottom line: Health insurance companies closely track their medical loss ratios and aim to hit those targets most often by charging higher premiums, denying care, forcing people to use lower-priced providers or declining to cover people they deem to be too expensive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren’s $20.5 Trillion Plan to Fund Medicare for All

https://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2019/11/01/Elizabeth-Warren-s-205-Trillion-Plan-Fund-Medicare-All

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Elizabeth Warren on Friday detailed how she intends to pay for Medicare for All without raising costs for middle-class households. The senator from Massachusetts said her plan will cover everyone in the country without raising overall spending, “while putting $11 trillion back in the pockets of the American people by eliminating premiums and virtually eliminating out-of-pocket costs.”

Warren’s plan relies in large part on redirecting existing spending toward a universal, federal health care system, while adding new revenues from taxes on the wealthy, the financial sector and large corporations. “We can generate almost half of what we need to cover Medicare for All just by asking employers to pay slightly less than what they are projected to pay today, and through existing taxes,” Warren said.

Some key details from the Warren plan:

Much lower cost estimate: Warren starts with the Urban Institute’s estimate that the federal government would need $34 trillion more over 10 years to pay for Medicare for All, but she slices that number dramatically — down to $20.5 trillion — by using existing federal and state spending on programs including Medicaid to fund a portion of her proposal, along with larger assumed savings produced by a streamlined system paying lower rates to hospitals, doctors and other health care providers.

Total health care spending stays about the same: Warren projects about $52 trillion in national health care spending over 10 years, close to estimates for the existing system, despite covering more people and offering more generous benefits, including long-term care, audio, vision and dental benefits. Applying Medicare payment levels across the health care system is projected to produce substantial savings that would be used to finance the expanded size and scope of the plan.

Heavy reliance on employer funding: The employer contribution to Medicare for All is pegged at $8.8 trillion, with employers required to contribute to the federal government 98% of what they would pay in employee premiums. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt.

Public spending continues: State and local governments would be still on the hook for the $6 trillion they currently spend on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and public employee premiums.

New taxes on the wealthy: Warren proposes a new 3% tax on household wealth over $1 billion — and that’s on top of her proposed wealth tax, which calls for a separate 3% tax on wealth over $1 billion (and a 2% tax on wealth between $50 million and $1 billion). Combined with an annual capital gains tax on the top 1% of households, her proposal projects that the new health-care-focused wealth taxes would produce $3 trillion.

Taxes on business and finance: Warren says she can raise $3.8 trillion through “targeted” taxes on big business and financial transactions, including a financial transaction tax of .01% on the sale of stocks, bonds and derivatives.

Reduced tax evasion: Cracking down on tax evasion is projected to bring in $2.3 trillion. “The federal government has a nearly 15% ‘tax gap’ between what it collects in taxes what is actually owed because of systematic under-enforcement of our tax laws, tax evasion, and fraud,” Warren said. “By investing in stronger enforcement and adopting best practices on tax reporting, withholding, and filing, experts predict that we can close the tax gap by a third.”

Revenue increase from higher take-home pay: Employees would no longer pay premiums for health insurance, providing a pay hike and higher tax revenues, estimated to total $1.4 trillion.

Abolishing the Overseas Contingency Operations fund: Warren is calling for reduced military spending, with a focus on what some call the “slush fund” that covers the cost of overseas military operations. Eliminating this off-budget spending is projected to save $800 billion.

Immigration reform: Expanded legal immigration would bring in $400 billion in revenue as more incomes are subject to taxes, Warren says.

A record tax cut? Once the new revenues and cost savings are added up, Warren says her plan will deliver what amounts to an historic tax cut. “No middle class tax increases. $11 trillion in household expenses back in the pockets of American families. That’s substantially larger than the largest tax cut in American history.”

Warren won plaudits from some analysts and policy wonks for releasing a plan, but the details she laid out are also being picked apart by critics and rivals, with some experts already expressing doubts about her assumptions and numbers. Here’s some of the reaction:

Congratulations from a conservative: “Kudos to Senator Warren for actually releasing a plan,” said Scott Greenberg, formerly an analyst with the right-leaning Tax Foundation. “There are a lot of things in here that will draw attacks from the left and from the right, and it might have been politically easier not to release it at all. But Warren has stuck by her commitment to explain her proposals.”

Criticism from a key rival: “The mathematical gymnastics in this plan are all geared towards hiding a simple truth from voters: it’s impossible to pay for Medicare for All without middle class tax increases,”  said Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Joe Biden. Bedingfield argued that employees would end up paying the tax on employers.

Dire warnings from the White House: “It is the middle class who would have to pay the extra $100 billion or more to finance this kind of socialist government takeover of health care,” said Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s top economic adviser. “It would have a catastrophic effect on the economy and all these numbers that we’re seeing, all these numbers, on incomes per household, on wage increases, on jobs, all these numbers would literally evaporate and by the by, so would the stock market.”

Tax vs. premium: Warren’s plan will likely kick off a debate about the difference between taxes and health care premiums, and whether that difference matters, says William Gale of the Brookings Institution. “Does [the Warren plan] raise ‘taxes’ on the middle class?,” Gale asked Friday. “Short answer — it does not raise ‘burdens’ on the middle class.”

Cost reduction is crucial: “The key to Warren’s plan for financing Medicare for all is aggressively constraining prices paid to hospitals, physicians, and drug companies. We’d still have the most expensive health system in the world, but it would be less expensive than it is now,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Warren’s plan to aggressively constrain health care prices under Medicare for all would be quite disruptive. On the other hand, every other developed country has managed to figure it out, so we know it’s possible.”

And the battle is ultimately political: “In laying out the specifics of her Medicare for all plan, Warren’s challenge is more about politics than arithmetic,” Levitt continued. “She is taking on the wealthy, corporations, and pretty much every part of the health care and insurance industries. Those are some powerful enemies.”

So don’t expect major legislation soon: “Experts will argue for months whether [Warren is] being too optimistic — whether her cost estimates are too low and her revenue estimates too high, whether we can really do this without middle-class tax hikes,” said economist Paul Krugman. “You might say that time will tell, but it probably won’t: Even if Warren becomes president, and Dems take the Senate too, it’s very unlikely that Medicare for all will happen any time soon.”

 

 

Premiums for ACA Health Plans Drop in 2020

https://www.realclearhealth.com/2019/10/23/premiums_for_aca_health_plans_drop_in_2020_279468.html?utm_source=morning-scan&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mailchimp-newsletter&utm_source=RC+Health+Morning+Scan&utm_campaign=dfd654c92e-MAILCHIMP_RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b4baf6b587-dfd654c92e-84752421&mc_cid=dfd654c92e&mc_eid=cb200f8a98

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Premiums for the most popular health plans sold under the Affordable Care Act will drop for the second consecutive year, the Trump administration said Tuesday, as the law enters its 10th year and shows further signs of stabilizing.

 

 

 

How Pending Decision on Obamacare Could Upend 2020 Campaign

Supporters of expanding Medicare at a town hall meeting this summer in Forked River, N.J.  Health care registers as a top priority for voters in poll after poll.

A federal appeals court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act could be a huge headache for the president and take Democrats’ focus off Medicare for all.

 A federal appeals court in New Orleans is preparing a ruling on the Affordable Care Act that could put the law’s future front and center in the presidential race, overwhelming the current Democratic debate over Medicare for all and reigniting the health care-driven worries that helped Democrats win back the House last year.

Three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals are weighing whether to uphold a Texas judge’s ruling that the law’s requirement for most Americans to have health insurance is unconstitutional, and that the rest of the sprawling law cannot function without it. It is hard to imagine a thornier domestic issue for President Trump, whose administration not only refused to defend the law in the case filed by Texas and 19 other states but sided with the plaintiffs, asking the court to invalidate it.

A ruling against Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement as president, which provides health coverage for about 24 million Americans, would almost certainly be stayed pending further appeal.

But if it comes in the next few weeks, it could create significant confusion during open enrollment for the Obamacare plans offered through the law’s online marketplaces. And it would open a huge vulnerability for Mr. Trump, whose health care platform largely consists of attacking as socialism Democratic plans to expand government health care, either through Medicare for all or a government-run health care option that would be offered through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces.

A ruling against the health law would probably reframe the Democratic conversation on health policy away from moving beyond the Affordable Care Act toward Republican efforts to take health care away. That message, a driving force in the 2018 midterm campaigns, could resonate more broadly than the party’s current arguments over expanding coverage.

“Democrats will do better talking about what Trump can take away than about their new policy visions,” said Chris Jennings, a longtime Democratic adviser on health care. “The Texas case may reframe discourse around health policy more toward that type of discussion, which of course Republicans will hate.”

The law’s most popular provision is protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, but it includes much more, such as health insurance exchanges where people can buy private coverage with subsidies, an expansion of Medicaid and requirements for what insurance must cover, from emergency services to prescription drugs.

The appeals court panel could decide to partly reverse Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, affirming that the mandate that most Americans have health insurance is unconstitutional but rejecting Judge O’Connor’s ruling that the rest of the law cannot stand without it. That would cause barely a ripple, because the tax penalty for not having insurance was reduced to zero in the 2017 tax overhaul and the effects have been negligible.

But a ruling that upheld his decision in full, or even one that said the mandate and pre-existing condition protections had to go, would send shock waves through the health care and political systems. Either outcome would probably play into Democratic hands, especially in contests against vulnerable Republicans like Senators Martha McSally of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Republicans are not conceding that possibility. Asked how a ruling against the law might affect members of the party seeking re-election, the spokesman for the House Republican campaign arm, Chris Pack, said: “Both Democrats and Republicans oppose Obamacare. The only difference is that Democrats want to replace it with socialized single-payer health care that makes private health insurance illegal.”

In fact, most Democrats would welcome a renewed debate over the Affordable Care Act. Many Democrats in Congress have resisted Medicare for all; instead they have sought to shore up the existing health law and trap Republicans on pre-existing conditions. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, intends to force a floor vote as soon as next week on a resolution to overturn a Trump rule that lets states promote skimpy-but-inexpensive insurance plans that do not meet the law’s coverage standards.

The vote, Mr. Schumer said Tuesday on the Senate floor, “will present our Republican colleagues with a choice: whether to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions or not to protect them.”

Mr. Trump is in a box on health care, the issue that registers as a top priority for voters in poll after poll. He wants deals on ending surprise medical bills and lowering prescription drug prices, but the Senate and House are far apart on what drug price legislation they would agree to, and impeachment proceedings could derail any chance of bipartisan measures.

Public support for the health law remains high, driven in part by swing voters. And few Americans believe Mr. Trump will offer details of a new health care plan before the end of the year, according to a Kaiser poll released this week. They also doubt any plan he releases would offer “better care at lower costs,” as he has promised.

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, has repeatedly played down the importance of expanding coverage to the remaining uninsured; instead, he has said, Mr. Trump wants to improve the health care system for all Americans. His efforts thus far have mostly been directed at discrete groups of patients: a plan to reduce new H.I.V. infections by 75 percent over five years, for example, and another to move people with advanced kidney disease to home-based, instead of clinic-based, dialysis.

At oral arguments before the appeals court panel in July, a lawyer from the Justice Department indicated the Trump administration would seek a stay if the panel upheld Judge O’Connor’s decision. The losing side could appeal directly to the Supreme Court, increasing the chances of a ruling or at least oral arguments before that court in the final months of the presidential campaign. Alternatively, it could first ask for a hearing by the full appeals court, which would slow down the process.

The appeals panel could also send the case back to Judge O’Connor to reconsider, an option that August Flentje, a lawyer for the Justice Department, embraced during oral arguments. That would also draw out the court fight.

When the six-week open enrollment period starts next month, there will be more insurers offering plans through the Affordable Care Act markets. Premiums have stabilized, too, after a few years of price increases. But it will be a much lower-profile effort than in past years; the Trump administration has cut the budget for both advertising and enrollment help. As a result, a court ruling against the law would paralyze open enrollment if people assume there is no use buying or renewing coverage under a law that was ruled unconstitutional, and if no effort is mounted to counter that misunderstanding.

“It will require a doubling down, a dramatic increase in education — which is exactly the opposite of what this administration has done,” said Leslie Dach, executive director of Protect Our Care, a consumer advocacy group aligned with Democrats. “Someone will need to educate people that low-cost, quality health insurance is still available to them.”

 

 

 

 

Heads Up: A Ruling On The Latest Challenge To The Affordable Care Act Is Coming

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/10/12/769038397/heads-up-a-ruling-on-the-latest-challenge-to-the-affordable-care-act-is-coming?fbclid=IwAR3g7_yZtBbywVWukbTC0PmcInHcioxPcF9Y5LsWYLpEH5Gs-3ZgBGgINVM

A decision in the latest court case to threaten the future of the Affordable Care Act could come as soon as this month. The ruling will come from the panel of judges in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments in the Texas v. Azar lawsuit.

An estimated 24 million people get their health coverage through programs created under the law, which has faced countless court challenges since it passed.

In court in July, only two of the three judges — both appointed by Republican presidents — asked questions. “Oral argument in front of the circuit went about as badly for the defenders of the Affordable Care Act as it could have gone,” says Nicholas Bagley, a professor of law at the University of Michigan. “To the extent that oral argument offers an insight into how judges are thinking about the case, I think we should be prepared for the worst — the invalidation of all or a significant part of the Affordable Care Act.”

Important caveat: Regardless of this ruling, the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. Whatever the 5th Circuit rules, it will be a long time before anything actually changes. Still, the timing of the ruling matters, says Sabrina Corlette, director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University.

“If that decision comes out before or during open enrollment, it could lead to a lot of consumer confusion about the security of their coverage and may actually discourage people from enrolling, which I think would be a bad thing,” she says.

Don’t be confused. Open enrollment begins Nov. 1 and runs at least through Dec. 15, and the insurance marketplaces set up by the law aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

That’s not to underplay the stakes here. Down the line, sometime next year, if the Supreme Court ends up taking the case and ruling the ACA unconstitutional, “the chaos that would ensue is almost possible impossible to wrap your brain around,” Corlette says. “The marketplaces would just simply disappear and millions of people would become uninsured overnight, probably leaving hospitals and doctors with millions and millions of dollars in unpaid medical bills. Medicaid expansion would disappear overnight.

I don’t see any sector of our health care economy being untouched or unaffected,” she adds.

So what is this case that — yet again — threatens the Affordable Care Act’s very existence?

A quick refresher: When the Republican-led Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, it zeroed out the Affordable Care Act’s penalty for people who did not have health insurance. That penalty was a key part of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law in 2012, so after the change to the penalty, the ACA’s opponents decided to challenge it anew.

Significantly, the Trump administration decided in June not to defend the ACA in this case. “It’s extremely rare for an administration not to defend the constitutionality of an existing law,” says Abbe Gluck, a law professor and the director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale University. “The administration is not defending any of it — that’s a really big deal.”

The basic argument made by the state of Texas and the other plaintiffs? The zero dollar fine now outlined in the ACA is a “naked, penalty-free command to buy insurance,” says Bagley.

Here’s how the argument goes, as Bagley explains it: “We know from the Supreme Court’s first decision on the individual mandate case that Congress doesn’t have the power to adopt a freestanding mandate, it just has the power to impose a tax.” So therefore, the argument is that “the naked mandate that remains in the Affordable Care Act must be unconstitutional.”

The case made by the plaintiffs goes further, asserting that because the individual mandate was described by the Congress that enacted it as essential to the functioning of the law, this unconstitutional command cannot be cut off from the rest of the law. If the zero dollar penalty is unconstitutional, the whole law must fall.

Last December, a federal judge in Texas agreed with that entire argument. His judgement was appealed to the panel of judges in the 5th Circuit. Even if those judges agree that the whole law is unconstitutional, that would not be the end of the story — the case will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court. It would be the third case to challenge the Affordable Care Act in the nation’s highest court.

So if the ruling will be appealed anyway, does it matter? “It matters for at least two reasons,” Bagley says. “First of all, if the 5th Circuit rejects the lower court holding and decides that the whole law is, in fact, perfectly constitutional, I think there’s a good chance the Supreme Court would sit this one out.”

On the other hand, if the 5th Circuit invalidates the law, it almost certainly will go the Supreme Court, “which will take a fresh look at the legal question,” he says. Even if the Supreme Court ultimately decides whether the ACA stands, “you never want to discount the role that lower court decisions can play over the lifespan of a case,” Bagley says.

The law has been dogged by legal challenges and repeal attempts from the very beginning, and experts have warned many times about the dire consequences of the law suddenly going away. Nine years in, “the Affordable Care Act is now part of the plumbing of our nation’s health care system,” Bagley says. “Ripping it out would cause untold damage and would create a whole lot of uncertainty.”