Flashback 2014: Legal challenges threaten to destroy Obamacare

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in June in her 35-page dissent in the Hobby Lobby case. She called Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion a decision of “startling breadth.” 

Alito said Hobby Lobby, which has a chain of 500 arts-and-crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Pennsylvania furniture company, cannot be forced to comply with the Affordable Care Act mandate that health care plans, at no extra charge, cover contraception for women as part of a range of preventive benefits.

The court, which previously had ruled in favor of “corporate personhood,” said closely held companies — those with a few people owning more than 50 percent — can hold religious views.

The court’s four liberal justices said the decision to extend religious protections to for-profit companies will have untoward effects and, as Ginsburg wrote, closely held corporations can be large or small, public or private. Cargill is a closely held company. So is Koch Industries.

And the court’s 5-4 decision weakened the Affordable Care Act, which said birth control should be covered by insurance in the same manner in which other preventive drugs and treatments are covered.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., was dismayed and disappointed by the decision. “No one should be denied access to health care because of her employer’s religious beliefs,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said the ruling “continues a dangerous trend of favoring the rights of corporations over people, but also tramples on health-care decisions made between a woman and her doctor.”

Political challenges to overturn or weaken the Affordable Care Act continued into the fall, before and after the midterms.

Meanwhile, opinion polls showed more negative attitudes than positive attitudes toward Obamacare and, as the health care marketplace opened for a second year, many Americans learned their current plans were being canceled and premiums were on the rise.

“I’ve defended the Affordable Care Act because we needed to do something,” said Madison resident Amy Beadle. “But I’m deeply disappointed in what it offers me, as a consumer. I paid less for insurance before it.”

As Beadle was looking for a new and affordable plan, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge from the right that threatens the tax credits for millions — including Wisconsinites — buying insurance through the federal exchange.

The challenge, said Ron Pollack of Families USA, is “the most serious existential threat” facing the Affordable Care Act.