Democratic lawmakers announced Thursday that 43 state legislators had signed on to an amicus brief supporting the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. Supreme will consider in March.
The high court will consider whether the federal government has the authority to mandate that people buy health insurance. If that provision of the law is deemed unconstitutional, the court will have to decide whether the rest of the act must also be torn down.
The Connecticut legislators join over 500 lawmakers from all 50 states to lend support to the brief, which argues the law allows the states enough flexibility in shaping reform issues to remain constitutional.
Rep. Betsy Ritter, co-chairwomen of Public Health Committee, said the act was far from being a violation of state sovereignty.
“Rather, it is an example of a constructive federalism, with a federal government in a position to provide a national solution. A national solution to a national problem,” she said.
The law preserves the ability of states to design policies that are suited for their communities and economies, she said. Ritter said as the law has been rolled out, the federal government has provided states with flexibility virtually every time it has had the opportunity to do so.
“The constitution gives broad power to the federal government to act in cases like this when a national solution is necessary,” she said.
Sen. Terry Gerratana, the Public Health Committees other chairwoman, said the challenges to the law have only served to cause doubt and confusion.
Reached by phone, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the fact that Democrats turned out to support the law didn’t surprise him. But he said it is up to the Supreme Court to determine whether the provisions of the law are constitutional or not.
Neither he nor the Democrats are constitutional experts and the “Obamacare” bill was so complex that many of the people who passed it likely didn’t understand it, he said.
At the state Capitol press conference, lawmakers and State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri listed ways the reform act was already helping people in Connecticut.
Veltri said a $400,000 grant provided by the act has helped her office more than double its caseload. That provision of the act was actually modeled after the Office of the Healthcare Advocate, she said.
Veltri told a story of a 13 year-old girl who tried to commit suicide three times. After the third attempt she was hospitalized at a psychiatric unit. However, her insurer tried to deny that she needed ongoing coverage after three days because the girl had told staff she no longer wanted to kill herself, Veltri said.
Veltri said her office appealed the case several times as the insurer continued to try to deny coverage. The decision was eventually reversed and the company had to pay the hospital $80,000 for the girl’s care, she said.
“We could not have done that case without the Affordable Care act because the Affordable Care Act funded the person who handled this case,” she said.
House Speaker Chris Donovan said provisions of the law were already stopping insurance companies from denying Connecticut children coverage for pre-existing conditions as well as keeping them from dropping someone’s coverage when they get sick.
The law also helped the state balance the budget by providing over $20 million in federal grants for state retiree health care, he said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director Ben Barnes said if the high court decided to strike down the law it would create some problems for the state in the short term. For instance it would prevent it from launching the new Health Insurance Exchange Board. He said the long term implications would be “disastrous.”
“We would remain committed to implementing health care reform but our ability to implement it would be significantly hurt,” he said.
Cafero said it bothered him that the law seems to give the IRS more say in health care than doctors. But he said there parts of the reform that he liked including the pre-existing condition provision as well as the affordable health insurance section.
“There are certain things that are good,” he said. “We just need to get rid of ones that aren’t constitutional and hopefully preserve the good parts.”
Either way, Cafero said he hoped to see a ruling soon so the state could move on and comply with whatever the court decides.