Courts Block Rules That Would Restrict Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care Services

  

Federal courts this week blocked two Interim Final Rules (IFRs) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would have significantly expanded the ability of employers to deny coverage of contraceptives for female employees on the basis of religious or moral objections.

On January 14th, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an order granting the motion for a preliminary nationwide injunction blocking the implementation of the two IFRs from HHS that would have expanded the ability of employers to cite moral and religious objections in seeking exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate. That mandate requires all employers that provide employer-sponsored insurance for their employees to cover contraceptives, with narrow exemptions (e.g., religious entities and closely held for-profit corporations).

The Pennsylvania ruling followed a January 13th ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also blocking the implementation of these two IFRs in the 13 plaintiff states in that lawsuit (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington), plus the District of Columbia; the judge in the Northern District of California prominently cited ANA’s amicus curiae brief in his order granting the motion for a preliminary injunction.

These IFRs would be particularly damaging given the administration’s proposed regulatory changes to Title X funding, which provides grants for critical family planning services for millions of Americans, particularly low-income women. HHS itself notes in its analysis of the blocked IFRs that they would result in over 125,000 more women relying on Title X programs for reproductive health care services, even as the administration has taken steps that would restrict the ability of Title X programs to provide those services.

These injunctions block HHS from implementing the two IFRs, which were supposed to go into effect on January 14th; the narrower Obama-era exemption policy remains in place during the injunction. It is worth noting that two nearly identical IFRs were also blocked in the same district courts in December 2017. Experts widely expect the defendants in these cases to appeal to the U.S. Courts of Appeals in the Third Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, respectively.

ANA firmly believes in universal access to comprehensive and affordable health care services for all Americans. Access to basic, preventive reproductive health care, such as birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, and well-woman exams is critical to the overall well-being of women of all ages and is an essential health benefit. ANA will continue to advocate for universal access to quality, affordable, and accessible health care services, including basic, preventive reproductive health care services, for all Americans.

States and Trump Administration Push to Roll Back Health Care Gains

  

The Trump administration’s repeated dismissal of some of the most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – such as its protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and its requirement for insurers to cover Essential Health Benefits – has been evident for some time. Now a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report places much of the blame for the dip in ACA enrollment last year at the feet of the administration.

8.7 million Americans enrolled in health insurance plans offered through the ACA’s individual health insurance marketplace in 2018, a five percent decline from the 9.2 million who enrolled in plans in 2017. The report attributes much of this decline to the administration’s failure to set enrollment targets, reduction in funding for outreach and enrollment, confusing messaging, and chaotic policy decisions – including the decision to end cost-sharing reduction payments.

ANA joined with other patient and provider groups in an attempt to fill some of this gap through its own Open Enrollment advocacy and outreach campaign in late 2017, which resulted in more than 40,000 visits to Healthcare.gov as well as local and national media visibility. GAO recommended that the administration set enrollment targets for 2019 to alleviate this decline, though given the administration’s repeated sabotage of the law – including its work with Congress to try to repeal it – this seems highly unlikely to happen.

Regardless of what happens at the federal level, states are still attempting to implement policies that erode access to quality, affordable health care. Three states (Arkansas, Indiana, and New Hampshire) have implemented CMS-approved 1115 Medicaid waivers that impose work requirements on certain adult Medicaid beneficiaries (Kentucky’s work requirements policy was recently invalidated in federal court). Several other states, such as Ohio, have pending 1115 Medicaid waivers that would allow them to impose work requirements on certain adult Medicaid beneficiaries.

Worryingly, some states such as Mississippi – which hasn’t expanded Medicaid – have also applied for waivers to impose work requirements, which would greatly restrict access to care for some of the most vulnerable Americans. And Tennessee has submitted a waiver request to the administration that would bar Planned Parenthood from participating in its Medicaid program – and in the process prevent hundreds of thousands of Tennessee residents from accessing critical health care services. All of these restrictive proposals, of course, require federal approval, which the Trump administration seems to be strongly inclined to grant.

ANA firmly believes in universal access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare services for all Americans. These recent moves by both the Trump administration and state governments fly directly in the face of that goal and represent major steps backward in the effort to ensure that all Americans – especially vulnerable populations such as low-income women and those with pre-existing conditions – have access to all necessary healthcare services.

Healthcare stands to be a major issue in the 2018 midterm elections – 22 percent of respondents to a June 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll named healthcare as the most important factor in deciding their vote. These elections in November are an incredibly important opportunity for ANA’s members to make their voices heard when it comes to determining the future of healthcare in this country. We urge you to make nursing’s voice heard loud and clear by supporting candidates who align with ANA’s principles for health system transformation and who are proven to be advocates for nurses and their patients!

Short-Term and Association Health Plan Rules Sell Patients Short

  

The Trump administration is set to implement two regulatory policies over the next several months that stand to create significant disruption in the individual health insurance market. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published a final rule on short-term, limited duration insurance plans while the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently published a final rule expanding the availability of Association Health Plans (AHPs).

HHS on August 3rd published its final rule implementing changes to short-term, limited duration insurance plans (ANA voiced its opposition to this proposed rule in April). These plans were initially intended as a stopgap in the event that an individual temporarily lost health insurance coverage. This final rule allows these plans to last for up to 12 months, up from three months under previous regulations, and allows them to be renewed for up to 36 months. These plans are not subject to the Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The short-term, limited duration insurance final rule will take effect on October 3rd, 2018.

DOL on June 21st published its final rule implementing changes to AHPs (ANA voiced its opposition to this proposed rule in March). AHPs have been around for decades and are considered employer-sponsored insurance plans, and are thus not subject to certain ACA requirements for individual health insurance coverage, including the coverage of EHBs. The DOL final rule expands the definition of “employer” under regulations governing AHPs, and thus expands the types of employers and associations that can form AHPs. The AHPs final rule will take effect on August 20th, 2018.

Both final rules expand the availability of individual health insurance coverage that is not subject to the EHBs requirements under the ACA. These rules will facilitate the proliferation of insurance coverage that does not cover EHBs; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that six million more Americans will be covered by such insurance plans by 2023. This will make it more difficult for older individuals and those with pre-existing conditions to purchase individual health insurance coverage while driving up prices in the federal and state health insurance exchanges and threatening to fracture the national healthcare system framework established under the ACA.

States are already pushing back against these rules. New York and Massachusetts have sued the Trump administration over the expansion of AHPs, which they claim will “invite fraud, mismanagement, and deception.” And states have the power to regulate short-term, limited duration plans, some of which, including Maryland and Vermont, have already done so. States including Pennsylvania and Virginia have also expressed deep concerns over these as well as the fact that insurance brokers often use deceptive marketing tactics to promote them.

ANA strongly supports innovation and creative approaches to ensuring comprehensive, affordable healthcare coverage for all Americans. These proposals, however, have the opposite effect by driving up premium prices, pushing individuals in at-risk populations out of the insurance market, and widening population health disparities. Healthcare stands to be a major issue in the 2018 midterm elections – 22 percent of respondents to a June 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll named healthcare as the most important factor in deciding their vote. ANA urges its members and anyone concerned about nursing issues to support candidates who uphold our core values and principles for health system transformation. It is vital that nurses’ voices as the nation’s most honest and ethical profession are heard in the public sphere, and that nurses make their influence known.