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The Court of Appeal pauses the decision that threatened free preventive health care


A federal appeals court on Monday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that overturned the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all health plans fully cover certain preventive health services.

The move by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans will delay a March ruling that had threatened insurance coverage for recommended services such as depression screenings for teenagers and drugs that prevent the transmission of HIV. The Ministry of Justice had appealed the decision, and the appeal court’s stay will stand while the appeal process unfolds.

The ruling earlier this spring overturned one of the most popular requirements of the Affordable Care Act by removing financial barriers to a range of preventive services. It was effective immediately nationwide and had the potential to affect about 150 million Americans enrolled in private health insurance, either through employer-sponsored plans or through the Obamacare marketplaces.

While the case is pending, full coverage for preventive services will be required by law.

Earlier this year, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that insurers did not have to cover any of the services that had been recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force since 2010. His reasoning: The task force is not appointed by Congress and therefore did not have the constitutional authority to decide what benefits a health insurance company must cover.

That ruling had built on earlier ones: In 2018, Justice O’Connor had ruled that the ACA was unconstitutional (though the Supreme Court later overturned that ruling). Last September, he ruled that the ACA’s mandate that employers cover a daily HIV prevention pill called PrEP violated a company’s religious freedom.

For now, employers will still be required to provide free coverage for preventive services. But the Fifth Circuit is conservative-leaning, and the case could ultimately end up at the Supreme Court as another challenge to the Obamacare health law.

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