By Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) – The Biden administration has asked a federal appeals court to put on hold a judge’s ruling striking down the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurers cover preventive care, including screenings for certain cancers and pre-exposure prophylaxis against HIV (PrEP), at no extra cost to patients.
In a filing Thursday evening with the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Justice Department said the order, from U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, “has no legal justification and threatens the public health.” It asked the court to stop the order from taking effect until it can fully hear the administration’s appeal.
O’Connor’s order last month came in a lawsuit by conservative businesses and individuals challenging the mandate to cover PrEP, which they said required them to support behavior they objected to on religious grounds.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, the judge’s order reached far beyond the case. He found that the federal task force that decides what preventive care must be covered under the federal healthcare law, also known as Obamacare, was unlawfully appointed, voiding all of that task force’s determinations since 2010. The decision drew sharp criticism from major U.S. medical groups.
More than 150 million people were eligible for preventive care free of charge as of 2020 under Obamacare, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. The Justice Department said that if O’Connor’s ruling is not paused, insurers will be able to charge patients copays and deductibles for such services when they enroll in new plans, either when they switch insurance or re-enroll in a plan at the end of the plan year.
The conservative America First Legal Foundation is helping to represent the plaintiffs. The group was founded by Stephen Miller, who served as an adviser to Republican former President Donald Trump.
O’Connor previously drew attention in 2018 for ruling the entire ACA, the signature achievement of Democratic then-President Barack Obama, was unconstitutional in a decision that was later overturned.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Jonathan Oatis)