Georgians react to federal appeals court ruling against Obamacare

    Atlanta anesthesiologist Michelle Au praises the Affordable Care Act at the State Capitol on Thursday. Beau Evans/Georgia Recorder

    A federal appeals court upheld a decision to strike down the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate Wednesday, prompting cheers from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and dismay from groups worried thousands of Georgians could lose health insurance.

    Judges on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled 2-1 that the policy requiring insurance coverage is unconstitutional, but held off on scrapping the Obama-era law entirely. Its fate now rests with a Texas district court that already ruled against the law. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely.

    Georgia was one of 20 states that sued to repeal the individual mandate, a foundational part of the 2010 health care act that requires taxpayers without insurance to pay a fee to the Internal Revenue Service. A Republican-led tax overhaul in 2017 gutted the insurance mandate by setting the penalty at zero dollars. Without the fee, the suing states argued, the federal government cannot force people to purchase insurance and the entire law should be repealed.

    Critics of the ruling fear it heralds the end of a law they say has benefited thousands of low-income Georgians who otherwise could not afford health insurance. About 417,000 people in Georgia were enrolled in a subsidized health plan through the federally backed insurance marketplace in early 2019, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.

    Repealing the law without a replacement insurance system ready could discourage newly uninsured Georgians from seeking routine medical care, said Michelle Au, an Atlanta anesthesiologist. That could lead to a spike in costly emergency room visits because federal law requires treatment for people who can’t pay.

    “The cost of avoiding essential health services is in fact astronomical,” Au said Wednesday at a news conference at the state Capitol.

    State Rep. David Dreyer, an Atlanta Democrat, blamed Carr and other state attorneys general seeking to overturn the law.

    “We have rogue actors working with rogue attorney generals,” Dreyer said at the Capitol Wednesday. “Our own attorney general right here is literally fighting every day to strip health care from millions of Georgians.”

    Carr framed the ruling Wednesday as a much-needed step to change course on health insurance. He urged lawmakers to push harder to pass legislation setting up a new insurance system.

    “Congress, the states and the private sector must seize this great opportunity to fix the mess created by Obamacare and do right by the American people,” Carr said on Twitter.

    The court ruling comes weeks after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled plans to create an alternative to Healthcare.gov with Georgia’s proposed replacement health insurance market sending people directly to insurance companies or brokers with some subsidy assistance.

    “(The plans) encompass the entire health care delivery system, showcase our priorities, reflect our values and put patients first,” Kemp said in a Nov. 4 news release.

    Beau Evans
    Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.