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Health, Science & Environment

Loss Of Affordable Care Act Could Have Major Implications In Utah

A photo of a woman filling out a medicaid form on a computer.
Renee Bright / KUER
Over 1 million people in Utah could potentially lose their health insurance if the Supreme Courts rules the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court is set to hear a case next month that could strike down the Affordable Care Act.

Utah is one of 18 states suing the federal government for the healthcare program’s repeal, which helped bring the rate of uninsured people to a historic low. If thrown out, some 21 million people nationwide will lose their health insurance, including over 260,000 Utahns, according to a recent report from the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy think tank.

But that estimate is a conservative one, said Stacy Stanford with the nonprofit healthcare advocate Utah Health Policy Project. It only accounts for people who directly enrolled for insurance through the ACA marketplace or became eligible through the state’s recent and long-awaited approval of Medicaid expansion. About 1.2 million more people would also likely be impacted if other protections Obamacare offers go away.

“Maybe they don't get [their insurance] directly from the ACA, but they have a preexisting condition, which makes it so their employers' insurance can't kick them off when they cost the insurance company too much money,” Stanford said. “Or you're under age 26 and you're on your parents coverage.”

And as Utah continues to deal with a spike in COVID-19 cases, those who contract the virus could also be at risk of losing their insurance. Stanford said the disease could be considered a pre-existing or chronic condition, especially as many patients have reported lingering effects long after they are considered recovered.

Losing the insurance program is also likely to affect Utah’s most vulnerable the most. Stanford said about 50,000 people have enrolled in Medicaid since the state increased eligibility to those making 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $17,236 a year. The loss of the ACA would effectively eliminate their eligibility, as well as healthcare options for those who lose their jobs during the pandemic.

It also threatens to exacerbate a concerning trend in the rate of uninsured children in the state.

A separate report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, an independent policy and research center, found about 82,000 children in Utah were uninsured in 2019, which was a 39% increase since 2016. The state’s rate of uninsured children in 2019 — 8.3% compared to 5.7% nationally — was one of the highest in the country.

And while Stanford said there is a rule right now that ensures children and Medicaid recipients keep their coverage for as long the federal government has a public health emergency declared, once that ends the numbers of uninsured could continue to rise.

“Eventually we're moving out of the fire alarm phase of this crisis and into the maintenance phase,” she said. “And that's when we're going to see, unfortunately, kids probably hit a cliff and lose their coverage. Adults, too. We're worried about everyone who has come on board through Medicaid.”

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