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Governor Edwards Looks To Protect Healthcare Access As Affordable Care Act Faces Legal Battle

NEC Corporation of America/Creative Commons

While the Affordable Care Act is challenged in federal court, Governor John Bel Edwards is eyeing a state-based solution to ensure healthcare coverage for Louisianians with pre-existing conditions.
Late Friday night, just hours before the enrollment deadline, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The decision came in response to a lawsuit brought by elected Republican leaders from 20 states, including Louisiana.

The challenge to the healthcare law was lead by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on the grounds that the section of the ACA requiring people to have health insurance is unconstitutional. United States District Judge Reed O'Connor agreed.

In 2017, Congress repealed the part of the law that fines someone for not having health insurance - effective in 2019. Without that individual mandate, Judge O'Connor ruled the entire law is no longer constitutional.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry signed onto the lawsuit in February and, in a statement, praised Friday's ruling. "Since day one, this case has always been about the Constitution and federal overreach," Landry said.

He says he's committed to finding state-based solutions to ensure people with pre-existing conditions are able to get health coverage, though he didn't mention specific proposals.

Governor John Bel Edwards criticized Landry's decision to join the case, pointing to the 850,000 people in Louisiana who have pre-existing conditions and now face uncertainty as a result of the lawsuit Landry supported.

"This was a short-sighted lawsuit, to say the least," Edwards said in a statement Friday evening. "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."

Edwards outlined that proposed legislation in a letter to House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) on Monday. Representative Chad Brown (D-Plaquemine) has been tasked with carrying a bill in the 2019 session that would reflect many of the key provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Under the proposed bill, pre-existing conditions would not be reason to exclude someone from insurance coverage, annual and lifetime benefits could not be capped, and dependent children would be able to stay on their parents' health plan until the age of 26.

But people in Louisiana with pre-existing conditions aren't the only ones the Governor says are threatened by this decision. There are 480,000 people in the state who have health insurance through Medicaid expansion, a key component of the ACA that was also struck down by the federal judge's ruling. 

If Medicaid expansion were eliminated, the state would lose federal funding to cover the working poor, threatening their healthcare coverage and the state's finances.

The lawsuit is being appealed. That challenge would land in the conservative leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, before potentially being heard by the United States Supreme Court.

17 attorneys general from across the United States filed a motion this week requesting the court clarify that, despite last week's ruling, the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. It is not expected that the federal court ruling will go into effect during the appeals process.