While the Affordable Care Act is facing numerous administrative problems, the number of Obamacare legal challenges is growing.
The Healthcare.gov Insurance Exchange is Overrun by Glitches and Delays
Problems with Healthcare.gov, the website intended to enroll people in online insurance exchanges, are well known at this point and currently the subject of Congressional inquiry. Enrollment is believed to be well below expectations due to delays, bugs, and errors in the website’s launch. Supporters of the Affordable Care Act claim that this demonstrates consumer interest in the program, but the rampant problems point to a lack of sufficient preparation.
Hundreds of Thousands of Individuals are Losing Insurance Coverage
Another too-common problem is that many Americans are finding their current health plans being canceled. In 2010, before the Act was signed into law, the president promised Americans that they could keep their health insurance plans if they liked them. However, hundreds of thousands of cancellation notices have been sent out to people with individual coverage that fails to meet the minimum standards mandated by the Act. NBC News predicts millions of Americans who have individual health plans will eventually see those plans cancelled.
Originally, consumers with health insurance prior to March 23, 2010 were supposed to be able to keep those policies even if they did not meet the requirements of the new law. But since that time, the Department of Health and Human Services has decided that if any part of a policy was significantly changed, such as the deductible, co-pays, or benefits, the policy would no longer be acceptable. According to NBC News, this could be from 40 to 67 percent of policies purchased by individuals.
The White House claims that being forced to change policies will benefit consumers because the new policies will have better minimum coverage. But this does not take into consideration the higher premiums that are to be expected with additional coverage. Many consumers are already seeing their insurance premiums rise exorbitantly due to the new minimum coverage standards.
Insurance Companies are Creating Temporary Workarounds
Short-term insurance plans (anything less than a full year) do not have to meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act. Some insurance companies are taking advantage of this by offering short-term plans with less coverage and cheaper premiums. Americans who purchase these plans are unaware that they may face penalties in the future for not having the required coverage. This could also drive up the costs for people buying insurance through the online marketplaces: if younger and healthier people stay with their current policies, older and sicker patients will see even higher premiums. Some states have passed legislation to prevent this practice.
Constitutional Challenges May Doom the Affordable Care Act
Legal challenges to the law are mounting from public and private entities, often focusing on constitutional arguments. The United States Supreme Court previously issued a ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, but the only issue in that case was whether the federal government had the power to tax Americans who fail to obtain insurance coverage. Other portions of the Act are being attacked separately. Any of these attacks could weaken the Act badly enough to sound its downfall.
The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the power to penalize (or tax) Americans who failed to obtain health insurance. However, the Court had not been called upon to decide whether it was constitutional to require individuals to obtain health insurance in the first place. The provision is being challenged as unconstitutional because it did not go through proper governmental channels: the Constitution requires all tax and revenue measures be initiated in the House of Representatives, whereas this provision originated in the Senate.
Another challenge involves whether the Act interferes with religious beliefs. For example, Liberty University, a religious college in Lynchburg, Virginia, contends that forcing employers with more than 50 employees to provide elective abortion coverage interferes with the employer’s religious beliefs. There is also a question as to whether the Act can require employers to provide coverage for birth control drugs and pregnancy screening.
The legal challenges that could do the most damage if successful are to the provision that gives lower income individuals a tax credit. This tax credit is supposed to help pay for insurance premiums. The IRS ruled that this tax credit would be available to everyone, but challengers say that the tax credit only applies to those shopping at state-run exchanges, not federal exchanges. There are 34 states that have set up their own exchanges, and people in those states who do not want health insurance are claiming that if the tax credit is going to apply in those states, they will be forced to get insurance even though it is supposed to be optional (despite the tax penalties).