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Lambda Legal Urges Supreme Court to Uphold the Affordable Care Act

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May 13, 2020
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Today, Lambda Legal and Ropes & Gray filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of 16 nonprofit organizations that advocate for people living with HIV. The brief argues in support of 19 states and DC, led by California, and the U.S. House of Representatives who are collectively defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and appealing a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that invalidates a key provision of the ACA and threatens the law in its entirety.

In the brief, Lambda Legal urges the Court to uphold the constitutionality of the ACA and describes the role it has had in expanding health care coverage for people living with HIV, particularly those with lower incomes or who have faced barriers to care in the past such as LGBTQ people and people of color.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlights why broad and easy access to health care is so important. As a country, we must ensure access to health insurance and comprehensive, affordable care. The ACA, and in particular its expansion of Medicaid, has helped countless people obtain health insurance who were otherwise left to fend for themselves when they got sick. Its antidiscrimination protections on the basis of sex, race, disability, and those who have pre-existing conditions such as HIV have been critical to eliminating barriers to health care,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist at Lambda Legal.

“If the Court does not uphold the ACA, the impacts to our communities, especially on LGBTQ people and people living with HIV who are people of color and lower-income, will be catastrophic.”

ACA reforms have helped an estimated 20 million people obtain health insurance and with it access to lifesaving medical care, including many living with HIV who were previously denied coverage because their HIV status constituted a pre-existing condition or because they simply could not afford it.

“By making HIV testing, PrEP and antiretroviral medications more easily accessible, the ACA has ushered in an era of new progress in the fight against HIV,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal.

“We are starting to see the positive impact of this policy in reduced rates of HIV transmission in states like Louisiana and Illinois, which have reported significant drops in new cases. An end to the HIV epidemic is within reach and to dismantle a successful health policy that has made that level of optimism possible is unfathomable.”

This is the third challenge to the ACA since its enactment in 2010 to come before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices will consider the constitutionality of the individual mandate, now that the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance was reduced to $0, and whether it can be “severed” from the rest of the law, allowing the other provisions to stand, including such provisions as the expansion of Medicaid and antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and those who have pre-existing conditions such as HIV.

In March 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would review the decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional and indicated in remanding the case that it likely cannot be severed from important aspects of the rest of the law.

Oral argument is expected to take place in the Fall of 2020 and a decision would likely happen by the end of the term in the summer of 2021.

The cases are California v. Texas, brought by 19 states led by California and includes New York, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, the District of Columbia, and the governor of Kentucky, and Texas v. California, led by Texas on behalf of that state, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

The U.S. House of Representatives intervened in support of the states led by California and in defense of the ACA.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Counsel Gregory R. Nevins and Counsel and HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes joined Kirsten Mayer, Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, John T. Dey, Brendan McLaughlin, Ryan Sullivan and Megan A. McEntee of Ropes & Gray LLP as counsel on the brief.

Signatories include AIDS United, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Black AIDS Institute, Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Housing Works, Human Rights Campaign, Latino Commission on AIDS, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Minority AIDS Council, Positive Women’s Network - USA, The AIDS Institute, and Whitman-Walker Health and the Whitman-Walker Institute.