RadioOnFire.com - A federal appeals court on Tuesday will consider the fate of the Affordable Care Act, setting the stage for a major decision later this summer that could impact health care benefits for millions of Americans and supercharge debate over the law in the heat of the 2020 campaign.
A group of 18 Republican-led states, backed by the Trump administration, is asking the court to invalidate Obamacare over its requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance. California leads a group of 20 states, supported by the Democrat-led House of Representatives, in defending the law.
Both sides will present oral arguments in New Orleans before a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, seven months after a federal judge struck down the entire law.
In December, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas declared the ACA’s individual mandate unconstitutional and inseverable from the rest of the law, invalidating all aspects of Obamacare.
If the decision stands, Americans would no longer receive protections for pre-existing conditions, free preventive benefits coverage in all plans, mandatory acceptance of children on their parents’ plans up to age 26, premium subsidies to buy policies on the exchange, and greater access to Medicaid in dozens of states.
While the Supreme Court previously upheld the individual mandate as constitutionally permissible under Congress' taxing power, Judge O’Connor and opponents of the law argue that it became unconstitutional in 2017 when congressional Republicans’ reduced the mandate’s penalty to zero, no longer qualifying as a tax.
Defenders of Obamacare counter that Congress explicitly voted not to repeal the law, leaving most of it in place despite reducing the financial penalty for non-insurance. The law “no longer compels any individual to maintain healthcare coverage – or to take any other action,” supporters write in court documents. “At most, the remaining provision is a precatory encouragement to buy health insurance, which poses no constitutional problem.”
O’Connor issued a stay of his decision – meaning, it has not yet taken effect – during the appeal.
“Together, the Trump Administration and the Texas-led coalition risk the health of nearly every American -- from the young to the elderly, the sick to the gainfully employed,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Our coalition of states stands ready to defend the law and every person whose life may be on the line."
Industry groups and independent health care analysts say wiping out Obamacare without an alternative would mean a highly disruptive shift in the health care of millions of Americans.