AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texas continues its legal battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act, state leaders have not publicly announced any plan to replace it.
The ACA, also referred to as Obamacare after the president who signed it into law nearly a decade ago, faces another challenge in court Tuesday. Three federal judges will hear arguments in an attempt by Texas and more than a dozen other states to invalidate the nationwide healthcare law.
The suit will determine whether the government can require health insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions. Around 1 million Texans rely on the ACA’s subsidized coverage. The plan provides benefits at low-cost to insured Americans and largely protects patients with preexisting conditions.
Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country, which promises to increase should the ACA be repealed.
The right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation has joined the lawsuit, representing two Texans who “wish to be able to purchase health insurance coverage in a competitive market that meets their needs, is affordable and enables them to receive health care from their preferred providers,” according to the foundation.
“There is an injury to people like our clients, fairly healthy people who may have to delay other purchases or take longer to save money or to get ahead in their own business because of the burden of this cost,” Texas Public Policy Foundation attorney Munera Al-Fuhaid, who will deliver arguments in federal court Tuesday.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading the effort, who argues the law holds no water after Congress removed the individual mandate in 2017, imposing a penalty for people who choose to live without insurance.
“Obamacare is a failed social experiment,” he said in a May statement. “The sooner it is invalidated, the better, so each state can decide what type of health care system it wants and how best to provide for those with preexisting conditions, which is federalism that the Founders intended.”
Paxton’s office did not return a request for comment for this report. Neither did spokespeople for Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, or House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
In December, Abbott said Texas would “be ready with replacement health care insurance” that includes coverage for preexisting conditions, should the ACA remain struck down on appeal.
“We will also work with Congress to ensure Texans have access to the healthcare insurance they need,” he tweeted, weeks before the legislative session began.
Those commitments remain unfulfilled, according to Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, who said state leaders are “actually trying to make it worse.”
“Legislators did nothing to address our worst in the nation uninsured rate, no bills passed,” Pogue said Monday. “Now on top of that – our state Attorney General is suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act which would leave 1.7 million Texans uninsured- it would take their health coverage away.”
“There’s not a plan moving forward for how we’ll make sure that millions of Texans get affordable health coverage that people with preexisting conditions don’t face discrimination,” Pogue said.
State lawmakers did approve one measure to allow for a pool of high-risk Texans with preexisting conditions to receive guaranteed health coverage temporarily through Senate Bill 1940, by North Richland Hills Republican Senator Kelly Hancock. The bill, which Abbott signed into law and takes effect immediately, allows the head of the Texas Department of Insurance to expand coverage on a temporary basis to protect patients with preexisting conditions from losing insurance.
‘Repeal and replace’ is a tired phrase, but in Texas, we’re not just paying lip service on this issue, we’re passing significant healthcare reforms,” Hancock said in a statement through a spokesperson on Monday.
“SB 1940 provides a safety net for Texans with pre-existing conditions,” he stated. “It’s designed with the unknowns of future court decisions in mind, and allows the flexibility to create a high risk pool, reinsurance program, or whatever other route works best for Texas and Texans when the time comes.”
Other legislation stalled. Senate Bill 825, by Austin Democratic Senator Kirk Watson, would have allowed Texans to “keep the preexisting condition protections provided by the ACA, no matter what happens with this case,” he said. The bill was not given a hearing in Hancock’s Senate Business and Commerce committee.
“(It) Would have at least started the discussion about a replacement plan,” Watson tweeted Monday.
In Central Texas, non-partisan non-profit Foundation Communities has enrolled nearly 30,000 people for health insurance through the marketplace since 2014.
“We’ve seen the difference it can make for people in terms of having access to health insurance when they wouldn’t otherwise, but also having protections,” Kori Hattemer, the organization’s director of financial programs, said.
“We’ve always been here to help people sign up for health insurance, so regardless of what happens or what changes, we’ll still be here,” she explained.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Friday the federal government has decided not to defend the ACA, so the Golden State is stepping in along with more than a dozen other attorneys general from blue states.
“If the Trump Administration had done its job to defend and protect the healthcare of millions of Americans, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Becerra said in a statement. “Since President Trump refuses to protect Americans’ healthcare, California’s coalition has picked up his fumble. Our argument is simple: the health and wellbeing of nearly every American is at risk. Healthcare can mean the difference between life and death, financial stability and bankruptcy. Our families’ wellbeing should not be treated as a political football. We’ll see the Trump Administration in court to make sure it isn’t.”
The judges could take several months to make a decision, and whomever loses is not likely to let the case end here. The ruling could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.