A federal judge in Texas said on Friday that the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law, therefore, cannot stand.
Legal experts say the ruling won’t immediately affect Americans’ health coverage, and a group of states led by California is already vowing to appeal. But the invalidation of the landmark health care law popularly known as Obamacare throws into doubt the future of health coverage for millions of Americans on the Obamacare exchanges and in Medicaid expansion.
The ruling and expected appeal set up another cliffhanger in which the fate of the law, which Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to repeal for years, will likely once again ultimately lie with the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote leaving the law intact in 2012, but it’s unclear how the justices will view this challenge, which centers on changes to the individual mandate that were baked into the 2017 tax reform.
President Donald Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on a promise to undo Obamacare, was thwarted in Congress last year by a lone vote from the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
Trump immediately tweeted in celebration on Friday and called on Congress to act.
“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!” Trump wrote.
He later added, “Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!”
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi decried the ruling and suggested that the coming Democratic-led House will intervene in the case.
“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,” Pelosi said in a statement. “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.”
Today, the law governs American health care.
More than 4 million people have already signed up for 2019 coverage on the exchanges, and millions more are expected to pick plans before open enrollment ends Saturday.
The ruling threatens to wipe away the Affordable Care Act’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions, which became a focal point of the midterm elections and helped Democrats take 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.
The Republican coalition, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is arguing that the change rendered the mandate itself unconstitutional. The states say that the voiding of the penalty, which takes effect next year, removes the legal underpinning the Supreme Court relied upon when it upheld the law in 2012 under Congress’ tax power.