Note: This post was updated on April 4, 2023, to include additional details and a table showing potentially affected preventive services.
On March 30, 2023, a judge in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas issued a final judgment in a court case challenging the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires most private health plans to cover a range of preventive services without any cost-sharing for their enrollees. Having concluded in September that aspects of the requirement were unconstitutional and violated religious rights, the judge’s remedy in the Braidwood Management v. Becerra imposes new limits on the government’s ability to enforce those requirements nationwide. This Q&A summarizes some of the key issues related to the ruling.
What does the ruling mean for the public?
With about 100 million privately insured people using preventive services required by the ACA to be covered without out-of-pocket costs, the preventive services coverage requirement is the provision of the ACA that affects the broadest number of people, and it has been enormously popular with the public. Because of the ACA requirement, the vast majority of private health plans have to cover a range of preventive services and cannot impose deductibles or copays for them. If the ruling stands, over time, millions of people could end up paying more for preventive care and some may lose access to certain services. However, as sweeping as the ruling is, it does not completely and immediately wipe out preventive services coverage under the ACA.
That’s because the ruling applies specifically to services recommended by the US Preventive Services Taskforce (USPSTF) that were made after 2010 when the ACA was enacted. The ruling would not overturn coverage requirements for vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), women’s preventive health services (such as contraception, well women care and prenatal care, breastfeeding support services, and intimate partner violence screening) recommended by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), or services for children and young adults recommended by Bright Futures, though the plaintiffs had asked that those be struck down as well and that decision could be appealed. The ruling also only applies to updates to or new USPSTF recommendations issued since March 2010, when the ACA was enacted. It would effectively lock in place coverage requirements based on evidence from 13 years ago.
The ruling separately finds that the mandate to cover pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication taken to prevent HIV, violates the plaintiffs’ religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). While the RFRA remedy is limited specifically to the plaintiffs, because PrEP was recommended by the USPSTF after 2010, the medication and certain ancillary lab services can now be subject to out-of-pocket costs across all health plans and plans could elect to drop coverage altogether.
Coverage will not necessarily change immediately. Although the ruling is effective immediately, in many cases, health plan contracts are in place for the calendar year, and employers do not typically make changes to coverage or cost midyear. (It may be easier for plans to change formularies to allow for cost-sharing with respect to impacted drugs.)