On Friday, December 14, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” unconstitutional. But it’s not quite that cut and dried. The “unconstitutionality” of the ACA lies not in the entire piece of legislation, but in the individual mandate portion. Nevertheless, because of the way the ACA is written, declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional deems the entire ACA unconstitutional, according to District Judge Reed O’Connor, of Texas.
Congress’ 2017 tax reform bill included a change to the ACA’s individual mandate. Originally, the individual mandate required that every American purchase health insurance (if not covered by an employer’s policy) or face a tax penalty. The 2017 tax reform bill, however, eliminated the tax penalty.
Judge O’Connor ruled that when a tax penalty was attached to the individual mandate, Congress was exercising its Constitutional taxing power. Without the tax mandate, however, O’Connor ruled that Congress was overreaching its authority.
“Individual Mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause—meaning the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional,” said O’Connor in his opinion, adding that the individual mandate is “essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA.”
Judge O’Connor’s ruling goes further than the Trump administration originally asked. Invalidation of the individual mandate and the provision that protects those with pre-existing conditions were the only provisions the Trump administration had sought to overturn.
Tim Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University, said that (in addition to the individual mandate and the pre-existing condition provision), “O’Connor’s order would invalidate many provisions of the Medicaid program, the Medicare program and other federal laws.”
Jost added, however, “Judge O’Connor has declared the individual mandate unconstitutional and the rest of the Affordable Care Act invalid, but he has not blocked its continued operation.”
“Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA’s consumer protections for healthcare, on America’s faithful progress toward affordable healthcare for all Americans,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “…The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court.”
California and 16 additional blue states argue that the individual mandate is still constitutional, but that even without it, the ACA could stand. The Texas federal judge’s decision on the ACA will without question be appealed.
Texas Judge Rules Obamacare Unconstitutional | KPIX CBS SF Bay Area [2018-12-04]
Federal judge strikes down Obamacare | Fox News [2018-12-14]