Michigan joins lawsuit to protect the Affordable Care Act

Thursday, February 7, 2019 - 4:31pm

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Roseanne Chao

Michigan is joining a coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general fighting to appeal a Texas district court decision that ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

In her announcement, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Michigan has a strong interest in protecting the Affordable Care Act.

“The Affordable Care Act provides important protections – including protecting people with pre-existing conditions – and access to health care for hundreds of thousands of residents in Michigan,” Nessel wrote.

Nessel’s decision to join the lawsuit came in light of her decision to withdraw Michigan from eight lawsuits former Attorney General Bill Schuette entered the state in.

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The lawsuit seeks to overrule a decision made in December brought forth by 18 Republican attorneys general and two GOP governors. The lawsuit struck down the entire Affordable Care Act on the basis that its mandate requiring people to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. President Donald Trump’s tax plan eliminated the individual mandate last year.

Peter Jacobson, health law and policy professor, said he expects the Texas decision to be overruled, meaning a victory for the Democratic attorneys general.

“I suspect that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn the judge’s decision even though it’s a conservative court,” Jacobson said. “I think that the legal arguments that Texas and its supporters are making are not compelling. The particular challenge in the Texas case has always struck me as being more about politics than law.”

The expansive health care coverage has generally seen bipartisan support from Michigan. Not long after the Affordable Care Act was originally passed, former Gov. Rick Snyder passed a controversial expansion of Medicaid, voicing support for getting more Michigan residents covered. Jacobson agreed the Affordable Care Act has been generally beneficial for Michigan residents, citing research from the University of Michigan’s Center for Health and Research Transformation.

“We have fewer people lacking health insurance and the state has benefited economically,” Jacobson said. “Studies from the University show that the state has spent less money than anticipated and the availability of health insurance has actually improved the economy. As a result, Michigan’s involvement (in the lawsuit) is really an investment in maintaining those benefits.”

LSA sophomore Dylan Berger, president of the University’s Chapter of College Republicans, said although he believes the Affordable Care Act has many shortcomings that Michigan needs to address, the law should not be challenged in court.

“Since its passage, insurance costs and deductibles have increased for most Americans while quality has worsened,” Berger, who is also a columnist for The Daily, said. “In the meantime, however, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and shouldn’t be challenged in court. Without a well thought out replacement plan, repealing the Affordable Care Act would be disastrous.”

Law School professor Nicholas Bagley, a prominent Affordable Care Act researcher, said attorneys general normally wouldn’t have to worry about defending a congressional statute –– such a task is the job of the U.S. Justice Department. But because the Justice Department hasn’t taken a stand on the legality of the Affordable Care Act, Bagley said states were forced to step in.

“The Trump administration made the politically motivated decision not to defend the law, even though the case against the ACA’s constitutionality is really weak,” Bagley said. “Because the law would otherwise lack someone to defend it, California and a group of blue states intervened in the lawsuit. And they've now appealed the Texas district court's decision.”

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However, Bagley said the involvement of Michigan in the lawsuit won’t likely have large ramifications.

“Attorney General Nessel wants to signal her support for the law’s defenders,” Baglesy said.  “It won’t make much of a practical difference. The other blue states are already involved in the lawsuit, whether Michigan jumps in or not, but it’s putting Michigan firmly on the side of the ACA's supporters.”

Public Policy senior Kellie Lounds, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, is among such supporters, and said she is grateful for an attorney general who will protect the Affordable Care Act.

“We (College Democrats) are thrilled to have an attorney general who’s actually acting in the best interest of Michigan residents,” Lounds said.

However, the fight to appeal the Texas decision will not surely end in victory for Democrats, in which case the Affordable Care Act would be brought before the Supreme Court for the third time. Although the newly constituted Supreme Court now has five conservative justices, Jacobson said he is still confident the Texas decision would be appealed.

“I’m dubious that Chief Justice Roberts would uphold the Texas law,” Jacobson said. “I think that the political fallout to the court would be damaging.”