News Roundup: One Million Texans Could Be Affected If A Judge’s Obamacare Ruling Is Upheld

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelDecember 17, 2018 2:09 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Texas groups that advocate for greater access to health coverage are raising concerned about a Fort Worth judge’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said the ACA, also known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional.

Brian Sasser is with the Episcopal Health Foundation in Houston, a group that’s done in-depth research on the uninsured population in Texas, which is the largest in the country. He says this ruling could affect about a million Texans who get their health coverage through the ACA marketplace.

“So it kind of puts a million people, more than a million Texans, kind of uncertain about the future of something they depend on to help them have affordable access to care,” Sasser says.

And Sasser adds, it’s not clear what would take its place.

“If this isn’t the answer, then what do Texas policy makers see as the answer? Because the bottom line is a million people in Texas right now depend on the Affordable Care Act for their health insurance, if that goes away, what’s next?” Sasser says.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed this lawsuit challenging the ACA, leading a group of fellow Republican state attorneys general and two Republican governors.

They argued the entire law should be struck down after Congress zeroed out the tax penalty for the individual mandate that requires people to buy health insurance. Judge O’Connor agreed, but despite his ruling, the law remains in effect for now.

Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst for Health and Wellness at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, points out that if the ACA is ultimately overturned, it will impact more than just those who get coverage through the marketplace.

“But beyond that, right, it affects most Americans. So, in Texas, one out of every four of us has a preexisting condition – a healthcare condition like asthma, or diabetes, or cancer and we could be turned down or charged more for insurance, but for the ACA, so we would lose those protections,” Pogue says.

This case is likely to end up back at the Supreme Court, which has upheld the ACA twice, in 2012 and 2015.

The State of Texas put 13 inmates to death this year – the most since 2015. But while there was an increase in executions, the number of new death sentences handed down by juries stayed in the single digits, for a total of seven.

That’s according to a report the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty released at the end of last week. Kristin Houle heads this statewide advocacy group. She says one reason for the disparity between executions and new death sentences is that many inmates on death row were sentenced 15 to 20 years ago.

“And they reflect the climate and the public appetite for the death penalty at that time for the conviction,” Houle says. “So I think executions really reflect the past use of the death penalty, whereas new death sentences reflect the current political climate on the death penalty.”

The number of death sentences began dropping in part due to the introduction of Life without Parole. That became law in Texas in 2005.

Of the seven men sentenced to death this year, all are people of color.

“And over the last five years, we’ve seen that more than 70 percent of death sentences have been by juries on people of color,” Houle says. “So even as use declines, there are some startling and persistent concerns about its disproportionate application to people of color, particularly African American defendants in Texas.”

Houle says 44 percent of the inmates are on death row are African-American.

Looking ahead to 2019, four executions are already scheduled, two of which are in January.