Congressman Frank LoBiondo talks about the newly finished board walk in the inlet of Atlantic City. Atlantic City, NJ. May 25, 2018 (Kristian Gonyea/For The Press of Atlantic City)

An estimated 3.8 million people in New Jersey have pre-existing medical conditions, and their health-care coverage may become more difficult after new developments in a federal court case.

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Thursday the U.S. Department of Justice will no longer defend provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring coverage and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, leaving some New Jersey health policy experts, legislators and residents stunned and fearful of the impacts.

“The (Department of Justice’s) refusal to defend the ACA is yet another betrayal of our society’s most vulnerable by this administration,” said Amy Katz, of Egg Harbor City. “From their actions, it’s clear that they have little regard for disabled, elderly, pregnant or otherwise less than perfectly healthy Americans.”

Changes would primarily affect those with coverage in the individual market, or people who don’t belong to employer-based or group plans.

Before the ACA, health insurers could charge people more for coverage or deny them altogether for pre-existing conditions including cancer, mental illness, arthritis, diabetes, sleep apnea and even pregnancy.

After Texas and other Republican-led states filed a lawsuit in February declaring parts of the ACA unconstitutional, Democratic-led states, including New Jersey, joined the court case to defend the health-care law.

The Department of Justice filed a brief in court Thursday supporting Texas’ argument.

“New Jersey intervened to defend the Affordable Care Act because we feared that the Trump administration could not be trusted to carry out its constitutional duty to defend the law,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal tweeted Thursday night.

“We now know that we were right to be worried.”

What is most confusing, said Ray Castro, director of health policy at the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning advocacy and policy group, is that the pre-existing conditions protections were popular among some Republican congressional representatives.

Trump himself assured people protections would be included in a new health-care law that never came to fruition last year.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said last year one of the main reasons he voted no to repealing the ACA was because he did not see a replacement health-care law that maintained coverage for pre-exisitng conditions.

Jason Galanes, LoBiondo’s chief of staff, confirmed Tuesday those comments still ring true in light of recent developments.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, the Democratic candidate for LoBiondo’s seat in this year’s congressional election, said he was “profoundly disappointed” in the Department of Justice’s action because people who may have pre-existing conditions through no fault of their own should not be denied coverage.

“People would have to pay for care either with insurance plans, with their own dollars, which can bankrupt them, or they end up in the hospital with a lot of medical debt that they can’t pay,” he said. “We can do better than that.”

Castro said if protections were repealed, New Jersey would likely fall back on old laws that prohibited insurers from charging people more in premiums for pre-existing conditions, but they could delay coverage for that health care for as long as 12 months.

“It’s life or death problems for some folks,” he said. “New Jersey’s laws are not nearly as comprehensive as the protections in the ACA, so the state would want to decide whether to amend its own law or not if this were to happen.”

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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