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Federal Court Ruling On Affordable Care Act Leaves Utahns In Limbo

Photo illustration showing a calculator and stethoscope on top of documents.
BrianAJackson via iStock
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A federal ruling struck down the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, the portion of the law requiring most people to have coverage.

A federal court struck down a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Wednesday, signalling more uncertainty for a law that has been in and out of the courts since it first passed in 2010.

“It’s just a very, very long process for all of the people that use the ACA to go through,” said Courtney Bullard, education and collaborations director for the nonprofit healthcare adviser Utah Health Policy Project. She said Utah’s roughly 230,000 enrollees are left wondering once again about the fate of their coverage. 

Bullard said the court was supposed to make a broad ruling on the whole law, but decided instead that only the individual mandate — the portion that requires most Americans have health insurance — was unconstitutional.

The mandate wasn’t being enforced anyway, Bullard said, so the ruling won’t affect anyone currently enrolled through ACA, including those in Utah. 

Now the law will head back to a lower district court in Texas to rule on its other aspects, such as the provision that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition — who account for roughly 50% of Obamacare enrollees in Utah, according to Bullard. 

While other states have seen ACA enrollment decline over the years, in Utah the numbers have been on the rise, Bullard said. That includes some 40,000 Medicaid recipients.

“I think it’s loud and clear that this is something Utahns value,” Bullard said, adding that the voter approved Medicaid Expansion — a key part of the original ACA — was another sign of support, even though it was later scaled back by the state legislature. 

Map showing 18 states that are challenging the Affordable Care Act.
Credit Arianna Pickard / KUER
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KUER
Utah is one of 18 states (shown in green) fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, after two states — Wisconsin and Maine — dropped out.

Utah is part of the lawsuit against the ACA. Last year, the state joined 20 others to strike it down in its entirety.

While the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment for this story, it wrote “the ACA was a clear example of impermissible federal overreach” in a press release last year. 

The case is ultimately expected to end up in the Supreme Court — which has upheld the ACA twice before — though the issue is not likely to be settled before the 2020 election. 

If the entire law is struck down, some 20 million people nationwide could lose their health insurance.

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