Californians can rest easy. With a little over two months to go until the state’s open enrollment period for 2021 ends on Jan. 31, 2021, expect no new restrictions to your health care coverage options.
It is not likely that the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, will be successful. It occurred Nov. 10, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments against the national health care law passed under the Obama administration in the case California v. Texas, No. 19-840.
Although some Obamacare supporters, including California Attorney General Xavier Beccera – who led the Democratic defense of the ACA — expressed some caution about the nation’s highest court’s 6-3 conservative majority, they largely remained confident.
After the hearing, a majority of Justices indicated that the ACA is still safe.
California v. Texas mainly focused on the ACA’s mandate requiring insurance. It was filed by 18 Republican attorneys general backed by the Trump administration. They argued that the mandate became unconstitutional after Congress eliminated the penalty for not having health insurance in Congress’s 2017 tax reform bill. They also argued that since the mandate was a crucial feature of the law, and they deemed it unconstitutional, the entire law should have been thrown out.
Although an official decision in the case will not come until the middle of next year, at least five Supreme Court justices have indicated that they would reject the attempt to kill the ACA. Two members of the Court’s current Republican majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, noted that striking down the individual mandate portion of the ACA did not require overturning the rest of the law.
“It does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place — the provisions regarding pre-existing conditions and the rest,” Justice Kavanaugh said.
The Court’s inferred support of the ACA comes at a time when unemployment across the United States is still at record highs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Covered California healthcare marketplace began open enrollment Nov. 1, and many newly unemployed or self-employed Californians will need to apply for either subsidized insurance, Medi-Cal or an individual medical plan.
In a virtual conference Nov. 9, the day before his Supreme Court oral arguments, Becerra spoke about the importance of the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he called a national health crisis.
“We need the ACA more than ever now. COVID-19 has infected more than 10 million Americans, it has cost 12 million American workers their healthcare, and it’s disproportionately hurting communities of color. Because of the ACA, in states with expanded Medicaid, workers who have lost their jobs and with that their employer-based health insurance, are still able to get healthcare and support that they need,” said Becerra.
California has supported the ACA since its inception in 2013, expanding the Medi-Cal program for low-income residents, and creating the state-based Covered California marketplace, which offers both federal subsidies and state-based aid. According to Census records, the rate of uninsured Californians dropped from 17.2 % in 2013 to 7.7 % in 2019.
According to Covered California, 271,820 people signed up for health care coverage through the marketplace during its special open enrollment period between March 20 and Aug. 20 this year, more than twice the number of people who signed up during the same period last year.
Dr. Jamila Perritt, President and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, spoke about the importance of the ACA for the community she treats as an OB-GYN.
“I take care of people, real people who deserve to have access to the healthcare they will want and need access to — provided by the Affordable Care Act. The health of my patients has improved. The health of our communities has improved. I know that the Affordable Care Act has been a safety net for many communities and undermining or eliminating it will disproportionately impact those who need care,” said Perritt.
After presenting the arguments for keeping the Affordable Care Act, Becerra was optimistic.
“The ACA has withstood numerous legal and political challenges. It’s been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional twice before. And we are optimistic that it will withstand this challenge as well,” said Becerra.