Justice Department seeks stay on parts of ACA preventive services ruling

The Department of Justice (DOJ) wants a federal judge to ensure that preventive care coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remain available while it appeals a ruling striking the provisions down. 

The DOJ filed on Wednesday a request with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas for a partial stay of an earlier judgment from Judge Reed O’Connor that strips the preventive care coverage requirements for insurers. 

O’Connor’s ruling centered in part on the ACA’s requirement that insurers offer preventive services that have an “A” or “B” recommendation from a federal task force with no cost-sharing.

The judge found in a March 30 opinion that the preventive services requirement violates the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs, which are six individuals and two businesses. The plaintiffs argued that the requirements for covering birth control and the HIV prevention drug preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) violate their religious beliefs.

He also ruled the members of the preventive services task force were not properly appointed.

DOJ, which has appealed the initial ruling, argued that the requested stay will not impact the plaintiffs.

It is necessary, though, to ensure that the ruling doesn’t extend beyond the plaintiffs in order “to prevent irreparable harm to Americans across the country who would be needlessly deprived of life-saving coverage,” the stay request said. 

The coverage requirements have already been in place for more than a decade and include major critical services ranging from cholesterol medication to stave off heart disease to PrEP medication.

“The requirement for health plans to cover preventive services without cost-sharing has been demonstrated to save lives,” DOJ wrote.

DOJ added that a stay won’t lead to any harm to the plaintiffs as five of them don’t even purchase or provide insurance. 

“They would continue to benefit from the portion of the final judgment providing relief tailored to them,” the request said. “Because this balance of the equities overwhelmingly favors a limited stay, and because the government is likely to succeed on the appeal of the nationwide relief ordered by the court, the court should stay the requested portion of the judgment.”

DOJ asked O’Connor to rule on the motion for a stay by April 20 to give the agency the opportunity to ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay.

Major insurers have so far said they will continue to offer preventive services without cost-sharing to consumers.