Ruling by Texas GOP judge could imperil millions of Americans
A Texas federal judge has voided Obamacare’s requirements that insurance companies cover the full costs of life-saving HIV prevention and treatment drugs, claiming requiring Christian employers to do so violates their rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
In that same ruling on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who has a lengthy history of deciding against LGBTQ people and in favor of the far Christian right, also voided requirements insurance companies, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cover other life-saving medications and procedures including cancer screenings, mental health services, and diabetes treatments, although for reasons unrelated to religion.
“In September,” Reuters reports, “O’Connor held that the US Preventive Services Task Force, which determines what qualifies as a covered preventive measure under the ACA, can’t validly do so because its members aren’t subject to Senate confirmation and their recommendations aren’t reviewed by constitutionally appointed government officials.”
Thursday’s decision is an extension of Judge O’Connor’s September ruling, in the same case, Braidwood Mgmt., Inc. v. Becerra.
Slate’s legal expert Mark Joseph Stern calls Judge O’Connor’s ruling “nothing short of catastrophic to the U.S. health care system.”
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“Millions of Americans, including many pregnant women, will have to forgo basic care if it is upheld,” he adds.
The case was brought by Dr. Steven Hotze, a far-right Republican activist and religious extremist who has attacked the LGBTQ community for decades. Last fall The New York Times identified Braidwood Management’s owner as “Dr. Steven F. Hotze, a well-known Republican donor and doctor from Houston, has previously challenged the Affordable Care Act on other grounds.”
The Times reports in that September ruling in this same case, Judge O’Connor wrote: “The PrEP mandate substantially burdens the religious exercise of Braidwood’s owners.” O’Connor, The Times added, wrote “that Dr. Hotze believes that covering PrEP drugs ‘facilitates and encourages homosexual behavior, intravenous drug use and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.'”
HIV is not exclusive to people who engage in same-sex intimate relations, drug use, or sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.
In 2015, Dr. Hotze compared same-sex marriage to the Holocaust and gay people to murderers, defending his belief that Texas should ignore the impending Supreme Court ruling that found same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.
Just two weeks ago Dr. Hotze was “kicked out of a state senate session,” The Daily Beast reported, “after he called transgender people ‘pedophiles.'”
“Major medical and patient groups,” Bloomberg Law reported on Thursday, “had argued that a nationwide order would jeopardize health care for millions of Americans, leading to preventable deaths and higher costs for treating diseases that could have been detected earlier by free screenings.”
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According to Forbes, Judge O’Connor’s ruling on Thursday also voids required coverage for other “preventive services,” including “screenings for such cancers as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer and lung cancer, diabetes screenings, various screenings and interventions for pregnant people, statin use to prevent cardiovascular disease, vision screening for children and more.”
And yet, Judge O’Connor’s decision tossed “other arguments that tried to invalidate the contraceptive mandate in the ACA, so coverage for contraception will remain unaffected by Thursday’s ruling.”
The Biden Administration is expected to appeal, and according to Forbes because insurance policies are generally in effect for a calendar year, it’s unlikely any possible changes would be implemented before January.
Meanwhile, Judge O’Connor in 2019 overturned protections written into ObamaCare for transgender people, ruling they violate the religious rights of healthcare providers who hold religious beliefs that oppose the existence of transgender people.
Three years earlier, in 2016, O’Connor – who at that point already had a record of opposing LGBT rights – handed down a 38-page order in a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of 13 states, blocking the Obama administration from enforcing its guidance that said public schools should allow transgender students to use restroom and locker rooms based on their gender identity.
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