Last Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled in favor of a lawsuit arguing that the federal individual mandate, and the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) along with it, is unconstitutional. We are greatly disappointed about this ruling. The decision is misguided and we are hopeful that it will be appealed by a higher court. We have seen firsthand the impact of this life-saving law; this decision is a dangerous step back in the progress we have made towards universal coverage in Massachusetts and across the country. We will join any effort to prevent the ACA from being decimated any further, whether by legislative, administrative, or judicial attacks at the legislative.
We do, however, want to make clear that there is no impact for now. The ACA is still the law of the land. The Texas ruling will likely go to the Supreme Court and the process will take time. We know that the combination of the elimination of the individual mandate at the federal level, the different deadlines for open enrollment periods in some states, and now this ruling have made the current open enrollment period confusing for consumers. Nonetheless, the law is still in the books. In Massachusetts, open enrollment through the Health Connector started on November 1, 2018 and runs through January 23, 2019. People who want coverage beginning January 1, 2019 must apply, select a plan and pay their premium (if there is one) before December 23, 2018. After that, people who seek coverage must apply, select a plan, and pay their premium no later than January 23, 2019 for coverage beginning February 1, 2019.
While the Texas decision does not have an immediate impact on coverage for millions of people across the county, we recognize that it is important to monitor the situation and think about the future potential impact on Massachusetts and beyond. Although Massachusetts was the model for the ACA and we have many protections in state law, the Commonwealth is not shielded from what happens at the federal level. Massachusetts relies on a partnership with the federal government to provide the robust coverage options available to our residents. Regardless of what happens, some state protections will remain law, like the prohibition on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, but federal funding is necessary to keep the subsidized coverage options through MassHealth and the Health Connector intact. If the ACA were to ultimately be deemed unconstitutional, many protections and affordable health coverage options would be in jeopardy, and the Massachusetts uninsurance rate would shoot up, reversing over 12 years of progress.
We must not let the attempted sabotage of the ACA deter consumers. Open enrollment continues in Massachusetts until January 23, 2019. People receiving health insurance, including those who receive premium and cost-sharing subsidies through the Health Connector or coverage through MassHealth will have no interruption in their benefits. Don’t wait! Head to https://mahealthconnector.optum.com/individual/ to apply for health insurance, select a plan and pay your premium by January 23, 2019.
To learn more about the ruling and its potential effect on Massachusetts, see this story from the Boston Globe, which features our Associate Director of Policy and Government Relations, Suzanne Curry.