Fifth Circuit strikes down Obamacare individual mandate

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Texas and other Republican-led states had sued to eliminate Obamacare after the Republican-led Congress in 2017 cut to zero the tax penalty for people who did not abide by the mandate to buy insurance.

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. It may be that the rest of the law must fall along with the individual mandate - or not - but the district court needs to do a more careful analysis of the current law, the 5th Circuit wrote.

Indeed, in one reaction, Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tennesse, chairman of the Senate health committee, said in a statement that Congress had ended the mandate, and that "the court has finished the job by ruling the individual mandate itself is unconstitutional". "In the meantime", she said, "the benefits and protections enacted in the ACA are still in place and the AMA encourages uninsured individuals and families in the handful of states where enrollment is still open to seek health insurance coverage offered by the ACA marketplaces". So the Supreme Court earlier had said that the ACA was constitutional because Congress has the power to tax. Most experts say the results would be highly disruptive, with roughly 20 million people losing their health insurance and millions more facing a bewildering array of rule changes in the broader health care system.

The 5th Circuit's Wednesday ruling didn't give a huge amount of guidance as to what Judge O'Çonnor must do when parsing through the ACA to decide what - in legal parlance - is severable from the individual mandate and what is not. Many provisions of Obamacare, including those that protect people with preexisting conditions or allow young adults to stay on their parents' policies, remain popular. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement that while he was satisfied that the individual mandate itself might be unconstitutional, "I am not aware of a single senator who said they were voting to repeal Obamacare when they voted to eliminate the individual mandate penalty".

In a statement, Frances G. Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, called the decision "appalling" and said almost $2 billion in federal funding for subsidies through Access Health CT, the state's exchange, are at risk.

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Texas and 18 other Republican-led states filed the suit, which was defended by Democrats and the House of Representatives. A three-judge panel finally ruled on Wednesday while the historic debate over impeaching President Donald Trump played out in Congress.

Currently, the ruling has no real impact on the law outside of the mandate. Almost a decade after passage, I have to write about the ACA, you have to read about the ACA, and we all are just passing time until (maybe) the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) puts us out of our misery (someday). However, they deserve certainty about the status of their health coverage moving forward. It took two years for the Texas judge to hear the case, make a decision, for the appeals court to hear the case and then make their own decision - meaning the case could continue for a few more years at least.

It's worth noting for context that the last time the Supreme Court considered the legality of "Obamacare", the reform law prevailed in a 6-3 ruling.

When asked what that means for the overall argument that the whole law should be struck down, Henneke said it's "to be determined".

California will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general said.

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