NORWICH - A lawsuit calling for the end of the Affordable Care Act could have a devastating effect in Connecticut, especially on people who have pre-existing health conditions, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Wednesday.
The senator led a roundtable discussion on the issue at United Community and Family Services. Taking part were about 50 local people involved with health care as well as patients who have pre-existing conditions.
The Affordable Care Act became law in 2010. It requires insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions despite the high cost.
UCFS President and CEO Jennifer Granger said that during the years the Affordable Care Act has been in effect, UCFS has served about 1,000 more people per year, going from about 13,000 to 20,000 now.
“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Granger said.
In addition, about 7 percent of patients UCFS treats are uninsured compared with 14 percent before the law took effect, Granger said.
Murphy said the number of people filing for personal bankruptcy also has halved, from 1.5 million to 750,000, because health care costs no longer are a factor.
The senator noted the law does have problems, especially the high cost of many policies. But he said that supporters of the law, instead of being able to work to improve it, “unfortunately in Washington now we’re fighting a backward fight” to keep the law at all.
In 2017, after Donald Trump became president and Republicans took control of Congress, an attempt to repeal the law was defeated in Congress, but Congress did pass a law repealing the “individual mandate” - the requirement that everyone be covered by health insurance.
A year later in December 2018, a federal judge struck down the entire law, ruling that taking the individual mandate out invalidated the rest. The case is expected to be heard by an appeals court this summer and then, if necessary, by the Supreme Court in its term starting in the fall.
“This lawsuit could succeed by summer,” Murphy said. If the Affordable Care Act is struck down, “We have massive exposures here in Connecticut for people with pre-existing conditions if this lawsuit is successful.”
Murphy told the story of a family from Meriden whose members had health insurance their entire lives, except for one week when the father was moving to a new job. Unfortunately, during that week, a son was diagnosed with cancer, and the new employer refused to insure his pre-existing condition.
“We see these struggles day in and day out,” said Brianna Chaput, UCFS community outreach supervisor. The end of the Affordable Care Act, “would be an absolute nightmare,” she said.
Emma Mangiapane, who works at Norwich-based Reliance Health, said she had a pre-existing condition that before the Affordable Care Act, the insurer of her employer at the time did not cover. She said her father was able to keep her on his insurance using a $700 per month COBRA policy. Mangiapane said she had to take a second job to get insurance, but working at it aggravated her condition and she eventually had to leave it.
“It was terrifying,” Mangiapane said. “It was such a relief when (the Affordable Care Act) passed.”
Lee-Ann Gomes, Norwich human services supervisor, said if people lose health insurance, it would worsen other problems, such as homelessness and opioid use.
“I think the cities are really, really going to have their backs to the wall,” she said.
Connecticut has passed a law that does require insurers in the state to cover pre-existing conditions, Murphy said. He added that self-insurance plans, which aren’t regulated by the state, wouldn’t have to, and insurers would be less willing to cover Connecticut residents when they can cover people in other states that don’t have that requirement.
“We need you to stay engaged on this,” Murphy said.