Appeals Court Pauses Ruling That Threatened Free Preventive Health Care

A federal appeals court Monday temporarily stayed a lower court ruling that overturned the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all health plans fully cover certain preventive health services.

A motion by the New Orleans Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will suspend a March ruling that threatened insurance coverage for recommended services such as depression tests and drugs to prevent HIV infection for teenagers. The Department had appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeals’ stay will stand while the appeal process proceeds.

A ruling earlier this spring overturned one of the Affordable Care Act’s most common requirements by removing financial barriers to a range of preventive services. The bill would take effect immediately across the country and could affect the approximately 150 million Americans who have private health insurance through employer-sponsored plans and the Obamacare marketplace.

While this case is pending review, full coverage for preventive services is legally required.

Earlier this year, Judge Reed O’Connor of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that insurance companies do not need to cover services that have been recommended by the U.S. Task Force on Preventive Services since 2010. His argument is as follows. This task force was not appointed by Congress, so it had no constitutional authority to decide what services health insurance companies had to cover.

The ruling builds on an earlier ruling, in which Judge O’Connor ruled in 2018 that the ACA was unconstitutional (although the Supreme Court later overturned that ruling). He ruled in September last year that the ACA’s requirement that employers cover daily HIV-prevention medication called PrEP violated corporate religious freedom.

For now, employers will continue to be required to provide free compensation for preventive services. But the Fifth Circuit is conservative, and the case could end up in the Supreme Court as a new challenge to the Obamacare medical bill.

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