With Obamacare upheld, NH health care providers, insurers look forward to more stability

·3 min read

Jun. 18—The U.S. Supreme Court's dismissal of a challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Thursday means tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents will keep the health insurance they acquired through Obamacare.

In a 7-2 ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court said the state of Texas did not have standing to sue to overturn the law, because Texas and the other states that joined its lawsuit were not able to show they had been harmed.

The law passed in 2010 created the Healthcare.gov insurance marketplace for people who do not get health insurance through their jobs or programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and let states expand Medicaid to cover more low-income people. Those two programs provide health insurance for more than 125,000 New Hampshire residents, according to state data.

Thursday's ruling ended the third Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act. All three rulings have had the effect of upholding the law.

In New Hampshire, health care providers and health insurance companies celebrated the ruling.

"The Supreme Court ruling today ensures that some 21 million Americans do not become uninsured and placed at risk," said Kris McCracken, president and CEO of Amoskeag Health in Manchester. "As a community health care center, we are delighted that the right to equitable, accessible health care is upheld."

"We're certainly thrilled to see many of our patients will be able to retain their coverage," said Greg White, CEO of Lamprey Health Care, a community health center with locations in Nashua, Raymond and Newmarket. About 500 Lamprey patients have insurance because of the Medicaid expansion, and another 4,500 have regular Medicaid, White said.

Ken Norton, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New Hampshire, said the law has allowed more people to seek treatment for mental illness. "We're very pleased to see that it continues to be the law of the land," he said.

In a statement, William Brewster, vice president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Plans for the New Hampshire market, said Harvard Pilgrim was pleased with the decision. Harvard Pilgrim is one of the three insurance companies that sells individual plans in New Hampshire.

"We will always oppose measures that take away coverage from tens of millions of Americans, including the most vulnerable," Brewster said.

The law requires health insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and bans lifetime limits on coverage. Young people can stay on their parents' plan until age 26. Health insurance plans are required to cover a set of "essential benefits," including preventive care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and maternity care.

The pandemic has made the Affordable Care Act an even bigger part of providing health insurance for Granite Staters. Over the past year, more than 27,000 additional people started getting their health insurance because of Medicaid expansion. As of May 31, more than 76,000 people in New Hampshire have insurance through the Medicaid expansion.

A special "open enrollment period" for those who do not get health insurance through a job or from programs like Medicare or Medicaid has resulted in more than 1,700 people signing up to purchase insurance on Healthcare.gov.

New Hampshire's congressional delegation released statements celebrating the ruling. Gov. Chris Sununu made no public statement, and his office did not respond to a request for comment, but Sununu has opposed efforts to unravel the Affordable Care Act.

Advocates for the Affordable Care Act hope the challenges to the law are over.

Lucy Hodder, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law who focuses on health policy, said efforts to overturn and repeal the Affordable Care Act have hampered improving the health care system.

"We now need to go forward and address affordability, accessibility and equity issues that have plagued our health care system," she said.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion.

Justice Samuel Alito's dissent, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, argued that the court has overstepped in upholding the law three times and called each of the three decisions "an improbable rescue."

jgrove@unionleader.com

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