Texas-based federal judge Reed O’Connor ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional on Friday, just one day before the ACA enrollment deadline in most states. The ruling would strike down popular ACA reforms such as compulsory coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and the extension of coverage to adults under 26 under their parents’ insurance plans, and potentially mean 17 million Americans could lose their healthcare.
The timing has brought the future of the ACA into question, as well as if the change to the law will affect registration for 2019.
Is Obamacare Unconstitutional?
A coalition of 20 states attorneys general lead by Texas filed a suit claiming that one part of the ACA, the individual mandate requiring all citizens have coverage, is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law should be struck down along with the mandate. The Supreme Court already ruled that the mandate was constitutional back in 2012, likening it to a tax. But Congress set the mandate’s penalty to $0 in 2017, effectively killing the mandate without actually changing the law that requires coverage.
Texas successfully argued that the penalty can no longer be considered a tax without a monetary value attached, rendering the individual mandate unconstitutional, and that the rest of the ACA is intrinsically tied to the mandate so it should be considered unconstitutional as well. O’Connor wrote that he would not “parse the ACA’s provisions one by one,” adding, “The Medicaid-expansion provisions were designed to serve and assist fulfillment of the individual mandate.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who originated the lawsuit, lauded the decision, saying in a statement, “Today’s ruling enjoining Obamacare halts an unconstitutional exertion of federal power over the American healthcare system.” Paxton recommends that the Trump administration replace the ACA, better known as Obamacare, with “a plan that ensures Texans and all Americans will again have greater choice about what health coverage they need and who will be their doctor.”
What Happens Next?
The case will be referred to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, LA. From there, most legal experts expect it to be referred to the Supreme Court.
Nancy Pelosi released a statement that indicates a Democratic-run House will protect the ACA, , writing, “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.”
Which Side Is The Trump Administration On?
The Justice Department backed Texas in arguments that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but has not insisted that the rest of the ACA is tied to the mandate. Many parts of Obamacare are nationally popular, including protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions and extending the age a child can be covered under their parents’ plan to 26, making it difficult for the White House to support a decision that would threaten these protections.
President Donald Trump tweeted, “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.”
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2018
In a statement, the White House said, “We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place.”
Can I Still Register For Obamacare (& Should I?)
The short answer is yes, absolutely. Nothing has changed for Obamacare until further notice, and O’Connor’s decision could be reversed by higher courts.
However, December 15 is the last day to enroll for 2019 coverage in most states. Visit healthcare.gov today to sign up.