Whitmer to Call on Democrats to Codify ‘Obamacare’ Into State Law

Former President Barack Obama campaigns for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a "Get Out the Vote Rally" in 2022. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

By Associated Press

August 29, 2023

LANSING—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will call on state lawmakers this week to pass legislation proactively protecting key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, including no-cost preventive services, as the nation’s health law continues to face legal challenges in federal court.

Whitmer, who is working for the first time with a Legislature under complete Democratic control, will call for a plan to codify the Affordable Care Act during a speech Wednesday where she will outline her legislative priorities for the second half of the year.

It comes as one of the Affordable Care Act’s most popular provisions that requires insurers to cover preventive services faces a threat in federal court.

Writing the Affordable Care Act into state law will ensure Michigan residents “aren’t at risk of losing coverage,” due to future threats, Whitmer said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.

The plan, according to the governor’s office, must include measures that prohibit insurers from denying or limiting coverage based on preexisting conditions and would further protect a range of no-cost preventive services. Whitmer also wants legislation that requires all insurers to cover a set of “essential” services, such as ambulance services, birth control, maternity care and mental health.

The nation’s health law, often referred to as “Obamacare,” has faced numerous legal challenges in its 13-year history, including several that have made it to the US Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Texas struck down an Affordable Care Act provision that requires most insurers to cover preventive services that include screenings for cancer, diabetes and mental health. It’s among the most popular features of the law, with the US Department of Health and Human Services estimating 150 million individuals in private health plans have benefited from the no-cost preventive services.

While a court agreement put a stay on the judge’s ruling as appeals are pursued, Whitmer directed state departments and the state Legislature in April to take action to ensure residents were not stripped of protections if federal law was changed.

“These are life saving measures that are protected by the ACA. So as long as Democrats have these majorities, it is important that we can protect these services in perpetuity,” said Dr. Rob Davidson, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care.

A version of the Whitmer’s proposal was passed by the state House in June but was never introduced in the Senate. It included a ban on annual or lifetime benefit limits and would protect a provision that requires insurers to allow young adults to stay on a parent’s plan until they turned 26.

A number of states added similar protections several years ago as the ACA faced a federal lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality. But self-funded plans established by private employers are exempt from most state insurance laws, stunting the impact of any state measures, according to Krutika Amin, the associate director of the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation ‘s Program on the ACA.

“State-based approaches make it so that some people in the state continue getting valuable services, such as zero-cost preventive services, but it won’t apply to the most people with private insurance,” Amin said.

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