WASHINGTON — A federal judge Thursday reversed a major Obamacare provision requiring plans to cover preventive care ranging from cancer and chronic disease screenings to pregnancy care and birth control pills.
The ruling deals a massive blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to lower maternal and infant mortality rates and bolster reproductive rights in the wake of Roe being overturned and could threaten the president’s moonshot goal of slashing cancer rates through early screenings. It also leaves the door open for insurers to refuse coverage of vaccines, statins, drugs preventing HIV transmission known as PrEP, and a vast range of health screenings recommended by federal officials.
Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas said the Affordable Care Act requirement for insurers to cover care and products recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is unconstitutional because members of that panel — 16 volunteers, typically doctors and scientists — were not appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, violating the U.S. Constitution’s appointments clause.
O’Connor’s ruling was somewhat expected: The judge last year ruled that religious groups did not have to cover PrEP and in 2018 attempted to strike down the entire ACA law, before appeals led to the Supreme Court’s 2021 reversal of the decision.
The lawsuit was brought by Braidwood Management, which represents a handful of Christian-owned businesses in Texas who argued they should not be required to cover birth control and PreP.
The Biden administration last week celebrated the 13th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans can get free preventive care like cancer screenings. [That] saves the country millions and millions of dollars if they detect it early,” Biden said last week. “Because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans have access to basic services like maternity care when they wouldn’t otherwise have that.”
The president last year relaunched the Cancer Moonshot he first spearheaded as vice president in the wake of his son Beau’s death from brain cancer. The moonshot’s new chapter is aimed at halving cancer deaths and eventually ending new cases entirely through screenings, early care, and education.
The administration also asked in its 2024 budget request for a 72% increase in funding for Title X, the reproductive care program that provides contraceptives, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, and some pregnancy care.
Separately, the Food and Drug Administration is slated to hear from experts in May over whether to allow a low-hormone birth control pill to be available over the counter in pharmacies. While that could ease access for people who don’t get contraceptives through insurance plans, those users would have to pay out of pocket. The pills’ maker, Perrigo, has not yet said what it would charge.