Court: Part of ‘Obamacare’ invalid, more review needed

Court: Part of ‘Obamacare’ invalid, more review needed

NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down “Obamacare’s” now-toothless requirement that Americans carry health insurance but sidestepped a ruling on the law’s overall constitutionality. The decision means the law remains in effect for now.

The 2-1 ruling handed down by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans means the ultimate fate of the rest of the Affordable Care Act including such popular provisions as protections for those with pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansion and the ability for children under the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance remains unclear.

The panel agreed with Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s 2018 finding that the law’s insurance requirement, the so-called “individual mandate,” was rendered unconstitutional when Congress, in 2017, reduced a tax on people without insurance to zero.

The court reached no decision on the big issue — how much of the Affordable Care Act must fall along with the insurance mandate.

“It may still be that none of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, even after this inquiry is concluded. It may be that all of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate. It may also be that some of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, and some is not,” Judge Jennifer Elrod wrote.

The decision sends the case back to a judge who already ruled once to throw out the entire ACA but with some guidance. O’Connor has to be more specific about which parts of the law can’t be separated from the mandate, and also must take into account Congress’ decision to leave the rest of the law essentially unchanged when it reduced the penalty for not having insurance to zero, Elrod wrote.

In dissent, Judge Carolyn Dineen King said her colleagues were prolonging “uncertainty over the future of the healthcare sector.” King would have found the mandate constitutional, although unenforceable, and would have left the rest of the law alone.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading state efforts to defend the law, promised a quick appeal to the Supreme Court.

“For now, the President got the gift he wanted — uncertainty in the healthcare system and a pathway to repeal — so that the healthcare that seniors, workers and families secured under the Affordable Care Act can be yanked from under them,” Becerra said in a statement.

Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, which spearheaded the lawsuit seeking to throw out the ACA, applauded the court’s decision to declare the mandate unconstitutional.

“As the court’s opinion recognized, the only reason the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in 2012 was Congress’ taxing power, and without the individual mandate’s penalty that justification crumbled,” Paxton wrote. “We look forward to the opportunity to further demonstrate that Congress made the individual mandate the centerpiece of Obamacare and the rest of the law cannot stand without it.”

President Donald Trump also applauded the decision, calling it a “win for all Americans.”

A legal analyst who has followed the health law from its early days said the ruling seems to indicate that the lower court judge who struck the entire statute down as unconstitutional overreached.

“The opinion suggests that Judge O’Connor went too far in invalidating the entire statute, and that he should have considered what Congress intended in 2017 when it zeroed out the mandate penalty,” said Tim Jost, a retired law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. Jost supports the ACA.

The court’s ruling ensures “Obamacare” will remain a political issue during the 2020 election campaign, giving Democrats a line of attack against Trump and congressional Republicans. With the health law’s ultimate fate still in doubt, Democrats will argue that Republicans are trying to strip coverage away from 20 million Americans.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the ruling a “chilling threat” to those who rely on the Affordable Care Act.

All the Democratic presidential candidates favour expanding coverage to the remaining 27 million uninsured, although their ideas range from building on the Obama health law to replacing America’s mix of private and public insurance with a single plan run by the government.

The decision comes after the conclusion of sign-up season for ACA coverage in most states. Technical glitches over the weekend had led to an extension until early Wednesday. That means the court ruling will not affect enrolment for 2020.

The lawsuit followed congressional approval of a major tax cut in 2017, which included the reduction of the “Obamacare” tax on the uninsured to zero. The case came about because “Obamacare” opponents noted a splintered Supreme Court ruling of 2012 that upheld the law. In that decision, conservative justices had rejected the argument that Congress could require that everyone buy insurance. But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to tax those without insurance.

With no tax in effect, the Texas lawsuit argued, the so-called “individual mandate” was unconstitutional and the entire law must fall. Judge O’Connor agreed in his December 2018 ruling.

Supporters of the law said the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, which didn’t render the mandate unconstitutional. They said the structure for collecting a penalty from the uninsured remained in place.

They added that, even if the individual mandate was rendered unconstitutional by the tax cut bill, the rest of the law could be salvaged.

Congress had already failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, the law’s supporters noted. What happened in 2017, they contended in written arguments, is that Congress “chose to make the minimum coverage provision unenforceable — while leaving every other part of the ACA in place.”

___

Sherman and Alonso-Zaldivar contributed from Washington. AP Writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans also contributed to this report.

Rebecca Santana, Mark Sherman And And Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press

obamacare

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Employee at Bethany CollegeSide in Red Deer tests positive for COVID-19

An employee at a Red Deer continuing care facility has tested positive… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta has identified 1,828 new cases and 15 new COVID-19-related deaths, which brings the provincial death toll to 590. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 1,828 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Central zone has 1,251 active cases

Higher sales of cannabis helped Canadian farmers come out in the green. (Black Press Media File)
Drumheller RCMP lay charge for unlawfully distributing cannabis

A joint forces investigation involving the AGLC investigation team partnered with Drumheller… Continue reading

Three weapons have been seized and four people are facing charges following a police operation in central Alberta. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
RCMP, Lacombe Police seize loaded guns, arrest four people

Four people have been arrested and multiple prohibited firearms are off the… Continue reading

The Salvation Army's 2020 Christmas Kettle Campaign includes a new $5 tap feature for pandemic-friendly donations. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Salvation Army officers safe, touchless options for Kettle donation this year

The Salvation Army in Red Deer needs help. Kettle donations are needed… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Montreal Alouettes' Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a “laggard” on homophobia in sports

Study finds Canada a “laggard” on homophobia in sports

Canada's Kadeisha Buchanan (3) and Mexico's Jacqueline Ovalle (11) battle for the ball during a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer match Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Edinburg, Texas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Delcia Lopez
Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan named Canadian Women’s Player of the Year

Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan named Canadian Women’s Player of the Year

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris celebrates his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the first half of the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Running back Andrew Harris, who was instrumental in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ending their Grey Cup drought in 2019, tops the CFL team's list of potential free agents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Grey Cup MVP, top Canadian Harris among Winnipeg Blue Bombers potential free agents

Grey Cup MVP, top Canadian Harris among Winnipeg Blue Bombers potential free agents

24Toronto Raptors' Fred VanVleet (23) goes up for a shot agains the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.. Watching Connor McDavid let a slapshot fly or Fred VanVleet sink a deep three can be a salve to the soul of a sports fan run down by the difficult realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark J. Terrill
Bubbles are best: experts say return of sports risky as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Bubbles are best: experts say return of sports risky as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall (10) scrambles past Texas State's Nico Ezidore (95) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in San Marcos, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chuck Burton
BYU presents tough challenge for Chanticleers, Canadian Makonzo this weekend

BYU presents tough challenge for Chanticleers, Canadian Makonzo this weekend

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, arrives at B.C. Supreme Court to attend a hearing, in Vancouver, on Friday, November 27, 2020. The U.S. Department of Justice is refusing to comment on media reports that its lawyers are seeking a plea deal of sorts with Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PM won’t confirm reports U.S. Justice Department seeking plea deal with Meng Wanzhou

PM won’t confirm reports U.S. Justice Department seeking plea deal with Meng Wanzhou

Alek Minassian is shown in a handout photo from his LinkedIn page. A psychiatrist retained by the defence will testify for a fifth consecutive day today at the trial for the man behind Toronto's van attack. Dr. Alexander Westphal says Alek Minassian does not truly understand the moral wrongfulness of killing 10 people, but says criminal responsibility is a legal opinion, not a psychiatric one. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
‘I know what I did was morally wrong,’ Alek Minassian told psychiatrist, court hears

‘I know what I did was morally wrong,’ Alek Minassian told psychiatrist, court hears

A look at what provinces and territories have said about COVID-19 vaccine plans

A look at what provinces and territories have said about COVID-19 vaccine plans

Most Read