Most health insurers plan to continue offering free preventative care services despite a federal judge having imposed a nationwide injunction on an Affordable Care Act requirement that these services are covered with no out-of-pocket costs on the part of patients, according to a letter by industry trade groups.
With concern growing that this important part of the ACA would suddenly be revoked, some of the nation's largest insurers and industry trade associations penned a letter to lawmakers, stating that: "The overwhelming majority do not anticipate making changes to no-cost-share preventive services and do not expect disruptions in coverage of preventive care while the case proceeds through the courts.
"Our associations have long supported preventive care and continue to do so. By responding together, we wish to make clear our strong support for continued access to preventive health care for millions of Americans who rely on it. "
Signatories to the letter include the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the American Benefits Council and America's Health Insurance Plans.
The letter was written in response to Democrats on health committees in the U.S. Senate and House or Representatives asking for information from 12 of the nation's largest health insurers on how they plan to respond to the decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Braidwood Management Inc. vs. Becerra.
That decision struck down the ACA requirement that most health plans and issuers cover without cost-sharing the more than 100 preventative services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
The judge in the case reasoned that the ACA requirement to cover with no cost-sharing medications for HIV prevention violates the rights of the plaintiffs who have religious objections to these medicines. The order immediately blocked the requirement nationwide to cover not only the HIV-prevention medicines, but all preventative services recommended by the USPSTF.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has appealed the decision to the U.S. Fifth District Circuit Court and the Justice Department has asked that the decision be paused as the appeal process plays out.
The lawmakers also asked if the insurance carriers would honor the ACA's rules until all appeals are exhausted, including all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fallout from the ruling
The federal court's decision has caused panic and concern among patients' rights advocates that insurers would immediately stop covering these services, which have become an essential part of health care in the last decade.
If the ruling stands and survives appeals, insurers could impose deductibles and copays for potentially lifesaving screening tests.
The lawmakers on April 13 wrote in their letter to the insurance industry: "We are very concerned that the decision will unnecessarily cause confusion, force consumers to pay out-of-pocket, and result in patients foregoing preventive services screenings and treatment altogether. There is evidence that even modest cost-sharing deters patients from accessing care and exposure to cost-sharing reduces the use of preventive care."
The trade associations that responded to the lawmakers' request to continue honoring the ACA rules said that preventative care is popular and effective, and that the decision from the federal judge likely is just the start of a lengthy legal process.
If the decision were to stand, there are still some preventative screenings that are not covered by the ACA, and it would not affect all states. There are 15 states with laws requiring insurers to cover with no patient cost-sharing the same preventative services that the federal law requires.