The attack on women’s health isn’t limited to House leadership, as the National Women’s Law Center explained in a brief filed in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Monday. The constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act working their way through the courts also have potentially profound consequences for women and their access to health insurance and health care.
In Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, several states have argued that the personal responsibility provision of the ACA (also called the individual mandate) and the expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income individuals are unconstitutional. The lower court judge agreed that the personal responsibility provision was unconstitutional; not only that, he held that the entire law should be struck down as a result. In other words, if the district court’s ruling were upheld, not only would the requirement that individuals obtain insurance be struck down. So would the provisions prohibiting insurers from charging women more than men for the same health insurance, the ban on sex discrimination in federally funded health programs, and the requirement that insurers cover maternity care. So would the Medicaid expansion that will be particularly valuable for women (who tend to be poorer than men), the provisions ensuring that employers with more than 50 employees provide breaks to breastfeeding mothers to express milk in a private location that is not a bathroom, and the subsidies to help individuals buy insurance. So would the requirement that insurers cease denying women insurance coverage because of “preexisting conditions” such as a past C-section or a history of domestic violence. These are only a few of the myriad consumer protections and provisions aimed at making insurance more accessible while controlling costs that would fall if the district court’s decision were affirmed by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
In our brief, joined by 21 other organizations committed to women’s health, we explained how improving women’s access to health insurance and women’s health was one of Congress’s primary purposes in passing the ACA. As the brief set out, the ACA is constitutional just like other federal laws aimed at ending sex discrimination and helping women overcome barriers to full economic participation, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII, and the Equal Pay Act. The Eleventh Circuit will hear arguments in the case in June. It will be one of many moments in coming months when women’s health is on the line.