What’s at stake
It’s unlikely the justices will issue a decision immediately. They have until the end of the term in June to rule.
Katie Keith, JD, MPH, a principal at Keith Policy Solutions, LLC, outlined the potential outcomes in Health Affairs .
“The most likely scenario is that the Court maintains the status quo,” she wrote. They could get there by deciding Texas et al. did not have standing to bring the case. Or they could decide that either the mandate is constitutional or that it is unconstitutional but can be severed from the rest of the ACA.
The Court could alternatively find that some or all of the law’s insurance provisions – such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions – can’t be severed from the mandate. Or the justices could strike down all of the insurance consumer protections, the health insurance marketplaces, premium tax credits, and other provisions, which would force states to come up with the money to help people buy insurance. And states are unlikely to be able to do so, especially with the pandemic stretching their budgets.
Finally, the Court could find that the mandate can’t be separated, which would essentially overturn the law.
If that happens, some 15 million people could lose Medicaid coverage, 11 million who buy on health insurance exchanges could lose coverage, and 2.3 million young adults would no longer be able to stay on parents’ policies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser also estimates that 54 million people under age 65 who have pre-existing conditions would no longer be guaranteed coverage.
The Urban Institute estimates that 21 million people could lose insurance – 15 million through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and 7.6 million through private nongroup coverage.
Medical societies weigh in
Multiple physicians’ groups, patient advocates, and hospital organizations have filed briefs with the Court in favor of keeping the law intact.
Twenty patient groups representing millions with pre-existing conditions – including the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Organization for Rare Disorders, and the Kennedy Forum – filed a court brief in May arguing that the law has expanded access to insurance and improved patient outcomes.
“The coronavirus pandemic has only served to underscore the necessity of meaningful coverage – especially for those who are at high risk of being severely affected by the virus – including countless Americans who have pre-existing, acute or chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, lung diseases and multiple sclerosis,” they said in a statement.
Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP, president of the American College of Physicians, which joined a court brief in support of the law with 19 other medical organizations, said the law has worked.
“The coverage, protections and benefits provided by the ACA are critical to the well-being of millions of Americans,” she said in a statement.
“If the ACA were to be thrown out at the same time that we face the pandemic, it would cause chaos for physicians and our patients, and for the entire health care system,” said Fincher, adding that millions of Americans who have been infected could lose insurance if protections for pre-existing conditions disappeared.
“The ACA has revolutionized access to care for tens of millions of women by helping them obtain meaningful health coverage, ensuring that essential care is covered by insurers, and protecting patients from unfair insurance practices,” said Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), in a statement.
Overturning the ACA “would be one of the most singularly disruptive acts to be committed during this public health crisis,” she said.
American Psychiatric Association President Jeffrey Geller, MD, MPH, also warned of disruptions to care, especially for those with mental health and substance use disorders. “We urge the Supreme Court to preserve the entire Act, including the individual mandate,” he said, in a statement.
“In the midst of COVID is no time to let down the millions who we serve as our patients,” said Chip Kahn, Federation of American Health Systems president and CEO, in a statement.
“As caregivers, the goal of hospitals for our patients is to see increased access to affordable coverage for all Americans – not new obstacles,” he said, adding that the ACA “can accomplish this goal. We hope the Supreme Court will see its way clear to allow it to go forward.”