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U.S. District Judge Rules Affordable Care Act is Invalid

— December 28, 2018

U.S. District Judge Rules Affordable Care Act is Invalid

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s 55-page ruling declaring the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) invalid has been criticized by legal analysts who predicted higher courts will reject the rationale.  The Texas judge did not issue any injunction in the case, meaning that in the short term, nothing will change in healthcare services or insurance.

Judge O’Connor, nominated by former President George W. Bush, found the Obamacare to be invalid on the basis of the much-debated history of a few of its provisions.  O’Connor decided that once Congress repealed the tax penalty which enforced a mandate that most Americans get health insurance, the whole law was essentially null and void.  The ACA’s mandate and requirement that insurance companies provide coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions is also at the center of the issue.

The ACA was originally passed in 2010 and is 200-pages in total.  If the judge’s ruling were to take effect, it could wreak havoc on the entire healthcare system in the United States, including affecting which drugs patients can buy, preventive care services for the elderly, the expansion of Medicaid in many states, and the structure of the Indian Health Service.

“There’s really no American that’s not affected by this law,” said Yale law professor Abbe Gluck. “It’s absolutely ludicrous to hold that we do not know whether the 2017 Congress would have wanted the rest of the ACA to exist without an enforceable mandate, because the 2017 Congress did exactly that when it zeroed out the mandate and left the rest of the ACA standing.  He effectively repealed the entire Affordable Care Act when the 2017 Congress decided not to do so.”

U.S. District Judge Rules Affordable Care Act is Invalid
Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

In 2017, Congress passed a provision that revoked the tax penalty imposed on individuals who decide not to carry health insurance.  Texas and 18 other states subsequently sued, arguing that the revised law was unconstitutional because of the concept of “inseverability,” which says some parts are so intrinsic to other parts that invalidating one invalidates the others.  Sixteen other states came to the ACA’s defense.

The U.S. Justice Department announced in June of this year that it would no longer argue for the mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  Afterwards, the Trump administration said a separate requirement that insurance companies cannot reject people who have preexisting conditions was also invalid.  That reversal led to the resignation of senior Justice Department attorney Joel McElvain.

President Trump tweeted his approval of O-Connor’s ruling after it was announced, saying, “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.”  Later, the White House issued a public statement saying the administration expects the ruling to be appealed, and Obamacare will remain in place in the interim.

O’Connor previously ruled against other Obama administration initiatives, including a countrywide injunction in 2016 blocking a policy advising school districts to allow transgender students access to the restrooms that match their gender identity.  That same year, he issued an injunction blocking regulations aimed at protecting transgender people from discrimination in healthcare.


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