STAT NEWS – A federal judge in Texas has ruled that parts of the Affordable Care Act mandating health insurance companies cover many preventive services and drugs for free are unconstitutional.
Judge Reed O’Connor also said the ACA’s requirement that health plans cover HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, at no cost violates religious freedom law.
The decision, released Wednesday, is a temporary win for the plaintiffs, which include Steven Hotze, a physician and conservative activist who has campaigned against the ACA and previously called same-sex marriage a “wicked, evil movement.”
The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately say if it would appeal the decision, although an appeal is considered likely.
Under the ACA, health insurers are required to cover an array of preventive health services — like cancer screenings and vaccines — at no cost.
“The plaintiffs argued they should not be compelled to buy and offer coverage that includes ‘PrEP drugs, contraception, the HPV vaccine, and the screenings and behavioral counseling for [sexually transmitted diseases] and drug use.'”
In particular, any service or drug that gets an “A” or “B” rating from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force must automatically be added to that list of free services.
O’Connor specifically agreed that any services recommended by members of the USPSTF are invalid because those members “are unconstitutionally appointed.”
Instead of being appointed by those within HHS, “they must be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate,” O’Connor wrote … READ MORE.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS –
Judge rules against required coverage of HIV prevention drug
By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that required coverage of an HIV prevention drug under the Affordable Care Act violates a Texas employer’s religious beliefs and undercut the broader system that determines which preventive drugs are covered in the U.S.
The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, whose courtroom in Fort Worth is a favored venue for conservative opponents of the federal health care law that’s also known as “Obamacare.” He ruled in 2018 that the entire law is invalid but was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
O’Connor’s latest ruling targets a requirement that employer-provided insurance cover the HIV prevention treatment known as PrEP, which is a pill taken daily to prevent infection.
The challenge was brought by a company owned by Steven Hotze, a conservative activist in Texas who helped defeat proposed nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in Houston and pushed Republicans for a law mandating that public school students use only the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. He is described in the lawsuit as operating Braidwood Management “according to Christian principles and teaching.”
The attorney who filed the suit was an architect of the Texas abortion law that was the nation’s strictest before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and allowed states to ban the procedure.
“Defendants do not show a compelling interest in forcing private, religious corporations to cover PrEP drugs with no cost-sharing and no religious exemptions,” O’Connor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote.
O’Connor also ruled that a federal task force that recommends coverage of preventive treatments, which is made up of volunteer members, violates the appointment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The impact of the ruling beyond the plaintiffs was not immediately clear. However, patient advocates and Democrats criticized the decision as a threat that reverberates beyond Texas. The Human Rights Campaign called it “an intentional attack on LGBTQ+ people.”
The Biden administration is likely to appeal. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Employers’ religious objections have been a sticking point in past challenges to the federal health care law, including over contraception. SOURCE.