A federal judge in Texas said on Friday that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law therefore is not valid. The ruling was based on law changes made in the 2017 Republican tax bill.
Experts said the ruling will not affect Americans’ current health coverage, and a group of states led by California is already planning to appeal. But the court ruling invalidating the health care law, also known as Obamacare, casts a shadow over the future of health insurance coverage for millions of Americans.
The ruling and expected appeal casts more doubt on the fate of the law, which Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to repeal for years. It is very likely that the judge’s ruling will ultimately be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote which left Obamacare intact in 2012, but this new court ruling may be viewed differently. It centers on changes to the individual mandate that were passed into law in the 2017 tax reform legislation.
Donald Trump, like most Republicans, campaigned in 2016 on a promise to undo Obamacare. Their efforts were unsuccessful as the repeal bill was defeated in the Senate by a vote from the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
Trump immediately tweeted in celebration on Friday and called on Congress to act. He wrote:
“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!”
He later added,
“Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decried the ruling and suggested that the coming Democratic-led House will intervene in the case. She said in a statement:
“Republicans are fully responsible for this cruel decision and for the fear they have struck into millions of families across America who are now in danger of losing their health coverage. When House Democrats take the gavel, the House of Representatives will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the life-saving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans’ effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.”
For now, the law still governs Americans’ health care. Over four million people have already signed up for 2019 coverage on the ACA exchanges, and millions more are expected to pick plans before open enrollment ends.
The ruling threatens to wipe away the Affordable Care Act’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Tens of millions of Americans have pre-existing health conditions which insurance companies want to use to deny them health insurance coverage. This issue was hotly debated in the midterm elections and helped Democrats pick up 40 seats and take control of the House.
In his opinion, District Judge Reed O’Connor said the “Individual Mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause—meaning the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional.”
He also held that the individual mandate is “essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA.”
The case against the ACA was brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general and governors, as well as two individuals. It revolves around Congress effectively eliminating the individual mandate penalty by reducing it to $0 as part of the 2017 tax cut bill. The mandate requires nearly all Americans to get health insurance or pay a penalty.