Arizona House votes for a backup plan in case Affordable Care Act is struck down

Arizona House votes for a backup plan in case Affordable Care Act is struck down

PHOENIX — The state House voted Wednesday to provide some protection for Arizonans with pre-existing health conditions if the U.S. Supreme Court voids the federal Affordable Care Act.

But that doesn’t mean it would be affordable.

The measure is being touted as a fail-safe for Arizonans should the Trump administration be successful in its efforts to quash the law.

That would include eliminating the broadly popular provision saying people cannot be denied health insurance because they have an underlying condition or ailment.

Senate Bill 1397 says if that happens between now and June 30, 2023, Arizona would have its own similar provision in state law.

The move came over objections from Democrats who said similar is not identical.

Sen. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, fails to provide for something in federal law: affordability.

She said it does little good for someone with a pre-existing condition if the insurance company can charge whatever it wants.

There’s also a political component.

Butler pointed out that it isn’t just the Trump administration that is trying to kill the Affordable Care Act.

She noted that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has joined with other Republican attorneys general in asking the Supreme Court to void the law.

Mesnard has acknowledged that he, too, believes the Affordable Care Act is not within the powers of the federal government.

But without price protections, Butler said, the legislation is little more than window dressing.

“It’s a pretend political ploy,” she said. “It’s smoke and mirrors.”

During floor debate Wednesday, Butler attempted to amend the measure to add provisions on affordability and to allow children to remain on their parents’ policy.

She didn’t get a chance as Republicans used a procedural maneuver to block her from offering the proposal, and also to limit debate on the legislation to six minutes, three for each side.

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, did not dispute that the measure does not go as far as the Affordable Care Act. But he said it does provide something for Arizona residents should the federal law go away.

The wide-ranging 2010 law requires employers to provide health insurance for their workers and requires uninsured individuals to obtain their own coverage.

It also created insurance exchanges to provide discounted coverage for those who meet income guidelines; expanded Medicaid coverage; and eliminated lifetime monetary caps on insurance coverage.

The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, with the majority saying the mandate for individuals to purchase insurance fits within the power of Congress to impose a tax.

But that fell apart in 2017 when Congress eliminated the financial penalty for failing to have insurance, a move that the current challengers say eliminated any legal basis for the law.

Butler lashed out at those trying to kill it, saying it would eliminate coverage for about 700,000 Arizonans who get care one way or another under the law. But she said if that’s going to happen, Arizona needs to be prepared to deal with the 2.8 million residents who have pre-existing conditions.

Weninger did not dispute that SB 1397, by itself, has no cost controls.

But he argued that there are provisions in existing laws that preclude insurers from discriminating between members of the same class of policyholders. And he said the Department of Insurance requires that rates be “actuarily sound.” Weninger promised to seek a formal legal opinion backing up that position.

The issue has placed Democrats in a difficult position. Even Butler acknowledged the measure is “better than nothing” and she has to support it.

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said people who have pre-existing conditions are telling her they would rather have no measure at all than this one. “It doesn’t help,” she said.

The measure, already approved by the Senate, now needs a final roll-call vote in the House.

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