Health

A federal appeals court in New Orleans heard oral arguments Tuesday on the legality of the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration and Republican-led states say the entire law — which goes way beyond the controversial individual mandate to buy insurance — is unconstitutional.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is part of a group of Democratic state officials that argue the law is legal and should stay as-is. He spoke during a press conference following the oral arguments Tuesday.

“My commitment is to continue in this battle to ensure that everybody can take their parents or their kids to a doctor, that it’s affordable, that mental health is treated just like physical health and those absolutely critical protections that have given so many Kentuckians a chance and have given rural health care a chance, remain in effect,” Beshear said.

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. It created a mandate for Americans to buy insurance. But the law also expanded Medicaid, made it so insurers couldn’t deny anyone health insurance coverage and guaranteed mental health benefits.

Last year a court in Texas struck down the penalty for people who don’t buy insurance. But the rest of the law is still in place, which includes the Medicaid expansion. That’s what’s under consideration in this latest court case.

In a press conference Tuesday, Beshear said if the court rules in favor of the Trump administration, Democrats defending the law will likely try to bring the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Republicans will likely do the same if the court doesn’t rule in their favor.

Beshear also said Kentucky lawmakers should look at passing state laws that create health insurance protections.

“If any court is going to rule all of this unconstitutional, we have to pass laws certainly here in Kentucky that protect our people, and I believe federally that protect our people.”

The federal appeals court could take weeks or months to make a decision.

The expansion of Medicaid opened the door for around 400,000 Kentuckians to gain health insurance. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky tracked what kind of care those people were getting under Medicaid. In a three-month period in 2016, more than 8,500 people got breast cancer screenings with their Medicaid insurance. A 2017 report from the Foundation showed Medicaid paid for people to get their teeth cleaned, and for Hepatitis C screenings.

At the time, Foundation CEO Ben Chandler said this kind of preventive care saves lives and can “lead to significant savings for Medicaid and other programs that pay the cost of caring for Kentuckians who otherwise would put off medical visits and just get sicker.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.