Murkowski stands by popular parts of Affordable Care Act after Texas ruling strikes them down

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks on the Senate floor during the debate on the GOP tax bill on Dec. 19, 2017.

Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski still supports federal protections for people buying insurance with pre-existing conditions after a conservative Texas judge struck them down in a Friday ruling.

“In Alaska and across the nation healthcare remains a priority and concern. I have heard that loud and clear,” she said in a prepared statement. “This ruling has no immediate impact and I am confident higher courts will review the decision. Regardless, we must preserve the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that have benefited so many, such as protections for pre-existing conditions that prevent insurers from arbitrarily denying coverage.”

She also highlighted proposed Republican legislation that would protect coverage for pre-existing conditions (though it falls short of the kinds of protections contained in the Affordable Care Act).

Republicans, including Murkowski, laid the groundwork for U.S. Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling with changes they made to the Affordable Care Act in the tax cut legislation passed last year.

The tax bill, which both Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan supported, repealed the fine for people who are not covered by some form of insurance, though it technically left the individual mandate in place. That change opened a new vulnerability for the signature health care law from the Obama era.

Twenty state attorneys general jumped in with their latest attack in a lawsuit filed earlier this year. They argued that without the fine, the individual mandate was no longer constitutional (the individual mandate had been held up because it was considered to be a tax by the U.S. Supreme Court) and then went on to argue that the rest of the law should be invalidated.

O’Connor, who’s a reliable judge for striking down Democratic policies, agreed.

Legal scholars on both sides of the aisle reportedly tend to agree that the leap to invalidating the entire law is a step too far, but O’Connor’s ruling and subsequent appeals will mean that the case still could proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the time of the tax bill, Murkowski supported ending the insurance penalty because she said it was a matter of free choice.

“I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy in order to avoid being taxed,” she wrote in an editorial for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “That is the fundamental reason why I opposed the Affordable Care Act from its inception and also why I cosponsored a bill to repeal the individual mandate tax penalty starting as early as 2013. And that is why I support the repeal of that tax today.”

At the time, she assured readers that none of the popular parts of the law would go away.

“The ACA has helped many people in our state and across the country. There is no question about that. Some people have been able to buy insurance for the first time in their life; mental health and substance abuse coverage is more accessible now; and insurers cannot arbitrarily deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions,” she wrote. “I do not support taking care away from these people, but there are many for whom this law has not been helpful. It is important to emphasize that eliminating this tax penalty does not take care away from anyone.”

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