The Justice Department Throws weight behind court decision to invalidate the ACA
Health Insurance Insights | 03-26-19

Health Policy Update: The Justice Department Throws weight behind court decision to invalidate the ACA

On March 25th the Justice Department said it would back the lower court ruling on Obamacare constitutionality

Following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor of the Northern District of Texas that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional in December, the Justice Department yesterday announced that it would support the ruling in future appeals.

The case brought by the Texas and 19 other states Attorneys General (AGs) revolved around the constitutionality of the ACA given that Congress reduced the individual mandate penalty to $0, effective in 2019. The state AGs argued that this renders the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance unconstitutional and that invalidates the entire Affordable Care Act.

The Judge reasoned that the ACA was originally held to be constitutional because it was made under the tax authority. With the tax penalty of the individual mandate removed by President Trump, it is no longer constitutional. This ruling, which was handed down on December 15, the last day of open enrollment, would have left millions without health insurance. However, Judge O’Connor stayed his decision in order for higher courts to make a final ruling.

As the case heads to an appellate court, the move by the justice department was a heavy blow to those in support of the ACA. The Department of Justice previously argued in court that the law's pre-existing condition protections should be struck down. Now, the administration argues the entire law should be invalidated.

The move is certain to prompt new denunciations from Democrats, who had already seized on the Trump administration's earlier call for the pre-existing condition protections to be struck down.

Many legal experts in both parties think the lawsuit, which was brought by 20 Republican-led states, will not ultimately succeed. The district judge who ruled against the law in December is known as a staunch conservative, but the five Supreme Court Justices who had previously voted to hold the ACA constitutional remain on the bench. Legal precedent shows that even if the mandate is ruled unconstitutional, the rest of ObamaCare is likely to stand, as that is what Congress voted to do in the 2017 tax law that repealed the mandate's penalty.

*Updates will come to this article as the case moves through the courts. *

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