Late Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, putting things like coverage for pre-existing conditions, access to care for poor people, and free cancer screenings at perhaps their greatest risk since Obamacare was passed in 2010.
Obamacare, which currently insures almost 12 million people through marketplace plans and made Medicaid expansion possible, was struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor. He wrote that Congress’ decision last year to remove the individual mandate — a tax penalty lodged against those who fail to carry health coverage as required by law — invalidated the act. The lawsuit to dismantle the program was led by political leaders from 20 conservative-leaning states that filed a complaint in February, arguing the law couldn’t constitutionally stand without the tax.
Democratic attorneys general are likely to file appeal. In the meantime, the ruling won't go into effect — people can continue to sign up for Obamacare plans, and the health care marketplace should function normally. The sign-up period known as open enrollment, which allows people to choose their Affordable Care Act coverage for 2019, closes at midnight on Saturday.
"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!,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet Friday night.
Since Democrats took back control of the House in November after an election in which they campaigned heavily on protecting pre-existing conditions, there’s little chance that the court’s decision will go without a bitter fight. In all likelihood, the Affordable Care Act will wind up back in the Supreme Court for the third time. The bench is now skewed conservatively after the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The Justice Department made the unusual decision to not defend existing federal law, siding with the states instead. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is leading the defense of the health care law.
Cover: Isabel Diaz Tinoco and Jose Luis Tinoco speak with Otto Hernandez, an insurance agent from Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, as they shop for insurance under the Affordable Care Act at a store setup in the Mall of Americas on November 1, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)