The Affordable Care Act was overturned Friday night (Dec. 14) by a federal judge in Texas, who declared it unconstitutional in light of recent changes to the US tax code.
While the decision is expected to move on to the US Supreme Court, it’s likely to sow some confusion for Americans today (Dec. 15), which happens to be the deadline to sign up for a 2019 insurance plan.
The nation’s high court has protected the statute before, most famously in a 2012 ruling in which chief justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with more liberal members of the court in a 5-4 decision. Writing for the majority (paywall), Roberts struck down a challenge to the constitutionality of the penalty the ACA created for uninsured Americans, noting that Congress “does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.”
But the penalty for not having coverage will disappear in 2019, under changes to the tax code passed by Congress last year. The Texas case, which was brought by the state’s attorney general, argues that without the enforcement component, the rest of the ACA is unconstitutional—and district court judge Reed O’Connor agreed.
While the executive branch typically fights to protect existing laws in court, the Trump administration has already said it won’t be defending the ACA (paywall) in this case. Dismantling what many consider the main achievement of the Obama administration has long been a goal for Trump, who campaigned on the issue but failed to rally Congress for a legislative repeal after he took office in 2017.
Trump was quick to tout yesterday’s ruling:
“Mitch and Nancy,” of course, refers to Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is set to become speaker of the House again when Democrats take back control of the chamber in January. While McConnell has long shared in Trump’s hope of an ACA repeal, Pelosi, the California Democrat who served as speaker when Democrats controlled the House from 2007 through 2010, had some choice words about the latest attempt to get the law overturned.
Here is the full text of Pelosi’s statement on the court ruling:
Tonight’s district court ruling exposes the monstrous endgame of Republicans’ all-out assault on people with pre-existing conditions and Americans’ access to affordable health care.
The GOP Congress tried and failed to destroy the Affordable Care Act and protections for pre-existing conditions. Then, in the midterm election, the American people delivered a record-breaking margin of almost 10 million votes against House Republicans’ vile assault on health care. Now, the district court ruling in Republicans’ lawsuit seeks to subvert the will of the American people and sow chaos in the final day of HealthCare.gov open enrollment.
While the district court’s absurd ruling will be immediately appealed, 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.
Proponents of the ACA applauded both the sentiment and the powerful turn of phrase.