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Supreme Court, Disability Rights, and ACA

By Ada Chung, NACDD Intern

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg wrote the decision of the Olmstead v. L.C., the case that held unjustified segregation of people with disabilities was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This decision paved the way for people with disabilities to escape institutions and live more fully in the community as a civil right. It is of utmost importance that the next Supreme Court Justice continues to uphold all civil rights laws and protect vulnerable populations from powerful political interests. But Justice Ginsburg’s successor, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, has a controversial background surrounding legal issues for people with disabilities that threatens the civil rights of people with disabilities.

Earlier this week, Justice Barrett participated in the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Texas v. California, a case especially important to the disability community because the petitioner in the case is asking the court to overturn the ACA. If the court were to rule in the petitioner’s favor, the result for people with disabilities would be devastating. Prior to the passage of ACA, people with disabilities faced immense barriers in accessing health insurance. Private insurance claimed that “pre-existing conditions” could justify excluding people with developmental disabilities from coverage by making premiums unaffordable to most or denying people with developmental disabilities outright. People with disabilities were also less likely to get private insurance through their employers. Deterred by private insurance, people with disabilities had to spend down their assets to qualify for Medicaid just to get health insurance.

The fact is that the ACA was a game changer for people with disabilities. It is working and helping more people with disabilities access health care. A Cornell University Disability Status report found that since the passage of the ACA and the Medicaid expansion, the uninsured rate for people with disabilities fell from 17.4% in 2009 to 9.8% in 2017. In total, the passage of ACA has allowed an additional 3 million Americans with disabilities to access health care. This is a great result for people with disabilities and the economy. But, the Texas v. California decision puts all that progress on the line.

Whereas Justice Ginsburg’s record on the court expanded the rights of people with disabilities, Justice Coney Barrett could very well cast a vote to overturn the ACA, even if that means kicking millions of people with disabilities off health insurance. During oral argument, Justice Barrett did not say which way she was leaning on the case. The uncertainty of her position on such an important issue for people with disabilities has caused much anxiety in the disability community. Her decision in Texas v. California will impact millions of people with disabilities and show whether she will continue to expand rights for people with disabilities in future cases that could come to the court.