Westerly Sun: Connecticut, Rhode Island reaction to judge’s ruling on ACA

Westerly Sun: Connecticut, Rhode Island reaction to judge’s ruling on ACA

By the AP & Sun Staff

The head of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange tried to assure residents Saturday that a federal judge’s ruling will not affect their ability to sign up for and use 2019 plans offered through Access Health CT.

Chief Executive Officer James Michel’s comments came less than 24 hours after a North Texas judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

“Access Health CT is the official marketplace under the Affordable Care Act in Connecticut and we are committed to upholding the ACA and the support it provides to residents of our state,” he said in a written statement. “We will not let this news get in the way” of the organization’s efforts to reduce the number of uninsured in the state.

While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court.

Access Health CT also announced Saturday that it is extending its open enrollment period for another month.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1 was Saturday at midnight. However, the exchange announced Saturday afternoon that customers will now have until Jan. 15 to sign up for coverage that starts on Feb. 1. The extension was planned prior to the Texas court ruling.

Rhode Island officials reminded residents that their exchange, HealthSource RI, also remains open for business. Open enrollment is underway until Dec. 31, and individuals and families have until Dec. 23 to enroll for uninterrupted coverage starting Jan. 1, 2019.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a 2007 appointee of President George W. Bush, asserted that the entire 2010 Affordable Care Act is “invalid” as a result of last year’s tax cut bill, which knocked the constitutional foundation from under the law by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage.

Before his appointment, O’Connor was a staff member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as a judge he has issued similar decisions seeking to undermine Obama-era policies. In 2016, he blocked a directive that required public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. He also held that regulations issued pursuant to the ACA could have forced doctors to aid in abortion or gender transition procedures that did not conform with their religious beliefs or medical judgments.

In a tweet, President Donald Trump praised the judge’s decision. He told reporters Saturday that “on the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people.”

Democratic officials and lawmakers in Rhode Island and Connecticut criticized the ruling, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. calling it a political stunt. Gov. Gina Raimondo said Saturday that “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Rhode Island has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country, and HealthSource RI offers among the lowest premiums in the country. I will continue to stand up for access to affordable, high-quality healthcare for all Rhode Islanders and will take all steps necessary to protect the ACA.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said: “While Republicans tried to repeal the ACA over 60 times during the eight years they spent in control of Congress, the incoming Democratic majority will fight to protect the law and ensure that quality, affordable health care remains accessible for all.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., accused “anti-health care zealots in the Republican Party” of “intentionally ripping health care away from the working poor” and increasing costs for seniors and people with pre-existing medical conditions.