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U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled last month that the health law is unconstitutional without the individual mandate penalty. Attorneys general from more than a dozen Democratic states are leading the charge to defend the Affordable Care Act at the next phase in court. Meanwhile, the government reports that about 8.4 million Americans signed up for 2019 coverage.
The House Democrats are set to vote next week on formally intervening in the suit against the health law that’s currently working its way through the courts. The measure puts pressure on Republicans, who campaigned on protecting preexisting condition coverage and other popular provisions in the ACA.
Federal Judge Reed O’Connor, who ruled in December that the health law could not stand without the individual mandate penalty, issued a stay as the ruling is appealed “because many everyday Americans would otherwise face great uncertainty during.” Although O’Connor expressed certainty in his decision, many legal experts have questioned whether the ruling will hold up in higher courts.
Republicans had already stripped away or blunted the more unpopular provisions in the health law, even if they never repealed it completely. What was left were the ideas that enjoy bipartisan support — such as protections for preexisting conditions coverage. And Republicans have struggled to come up with a viable replacement for the law, which has reshaped the country’s health care landscape to set certain expectations with the American public. Meanwhile, GOP senators blocked a resolution to intervene in the Texas lawsuit.
The number who enrolled totaled 8.45 million, down from 8.82 million at the same point last year — a decrease of about 4 percent. Sign-ups had been lagging at about 10 percent throughout the open enrollment season despite a more stable marketplace and lower premiums. While Democrats blamed the lower numbers on the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the law, CMS officials say a lower employment rate contributed to more people finding insurance elsewhere.
Consumer protections were put in place through the Affordable Care Act even for people who don’t buy coverage on the exchanges. Now a federal judge’s ruling invalidating the law might jeopardize those popular provisions that Americans might not even realize are part of the ACA. Meanwhile, less than a week after that decision, the case is back in court, this time in front of a judge appointed by former President Barack Obama. And, the legal uncertainty is complicating Medicaid expansion politics.
In their filing to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other Democratic attorneys general also asked for permission to immediately appeal’s his decision that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. For its part, HHS says that since O’Connor had not issued a final judgment or an injunction, the department “will continue administering and enforcing all aspects of the ACA as it had before the court issued its decision.” Meanwhile, Democrats prepare to act to protect the law as soon as they take the majority in the House next month.
Advocates and officials want to make sure Californians know that nothing has changed yet because of the ruling that found the health law to be unconstitutional. Consumers in the state have until midnight Dec. 21 to sign up for health coverage that begins Jan. 1.
Republicans just spent months making campaign promises to retain popular provisions of the health law, such as protections of preexisting conditions coverage. The decision to invalidate those measures in a case pushed by Republican attorneys general ties the party, politically, to a decision undercutting those promises. Meanwhile, Democrats vow to fight the ruling “tooth and nail.”
In a closely watched case, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, Texas ruled that without the penalty for not having health coverage, which Republicans zeroed out with their tax bill, the Affordable Care Act “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power.” And the rest of the law cannot be separated from that provision and is therefore invalid, he wrote. The judge’s ruling, practically speaking, won’t have an immediate impact on the way the health law operates. With enrollment closing on Saturday, the Trump administration said the court decision has “no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan.”