Richard H. Hughes, IV, Member of the Firm in the Health Care & Life Sciences practice, in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, was quoted in NBC News, in “Appeals Court Finds 'Obamacare' Pillar Unconstitutional in Suit Over HIV-Prevention Drug,” by Benjamin Ryan.

Following is an excerpt:

A federal appeals court on Friday found unconstitutional a key component of the Affordable Care Act that grants a health task force the effective authority to require that insurers both cover an array of preventive health interventions and screenings and refrain from imposing out-of-pocket costs for them. 

The lawsuit centered on the objections of a coalition of small businesses in Texas to the requirement that they cover a drug for HIV prevention, known as PrEP, in their employee health plans. The appeals court did not, however, overturn the related ACA pillar; the practical, immediate impacts of its ruling apply narrowly to the plaintiffs in this case.

Legal experts expect that the case, Braidwood v. Becerra, will ultimately advance to the Supreme Court, given that it poses crucial questions about the constitutionality of the health task force’s effective authority and that of other federal health bodies. Additionally, the current court has demonstrated interest in cases concerning the delegation of congressional authority to agencies and experts.

In response to Friday’s ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, public health advocates expressed concern that, should the Supreme Court ultimately void the task force’s authority, this could compromise the nation’s already sluggish HIV fight. …

A federal judge in the Northern District of Texas overturned the task force’s mandate in 2022, but in 2023 the 5th Circuit stayed that decision and on Friday ruled that it was overly broad. 

The appeals court has also asked the lower court to review the constitutionality of the authority granted to two bodies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to mandate insurance coverage for immunizations, contraception and other women’s preventive services.

Richard Hughes, an attorney at Epstein Becker Green in D.C. said he expects an ultimate appeal of the suit to the Supreme Court, because “essentially both parties,” including the plaintiffs and the Biden administration, “are going to be dissatisfied.” 

Hughes said it remains to be seen whether the parties will appeal to the Supreme Court in the short term or wait for the suit to wind its way through the lower courts.

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