WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide the fate of the affordable care law for the third time since its adoption ten years ago.
This December decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th circuit was based on Congress’s elimination in 2017 of the tax penalty for those who do not buy insurance. He left open a much more important question: can’t the law itself exist without the obligation of insurance?
The Supreme Court upheld the law, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama, in 2012 and 2015 by votes of 5-4 and 6-3, respectively. In both cases, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal court judges – a coalition that could save the law again.
In January, judges refused to hear the new case on an expedited basis, eliminating any chance of hearing and deciding it during this year’s presidential campaign. It is more likely to be scheduled for oral argument in the fall and a decision in 2021.
The court already has its hands full with this mandate with an electoral year file that includes major cases on abortion, immigration, gun control, gay rights, freedom of religion and subpoenas to appear asking for President Donald Trump’s tax and financial records. Another Obamacare case, challenging the legal requirement that women be given free coverage for contraceptives, will be heard in April.
The decision of the court of appeal left the law intact but faced with an uncertain future. He remitted the case to a federal district court to decide whether the whole law should fall without the insurance mandate and the tax penalty.
“As Texas and the Trump administration fight to disrupt our healthcare system and the coverage millions of people depend on, we look forward to advocating on behalf of ACA,” the attorney general said on Monday. from California, Xavier Becerra. “American lives depend on it.”
The justice ministry, saying the law is not in imminent danger, urged the judges to step down and let the district court do its job.
The new challenge arises from the A $ 1.5 trillion tax cut passed by the Republican-dominated Congress in 2017, which repealed the health care tax imposed on people who refuse to purchase insurance. The tax was intended to encourage them to enter the health care market rather than letting them seek emergency care without being insured.
In December 2018, the federal District judge Reed O’Connor ruled that without the tax, the law could not survive. His decision, which was stayed during his appeal, threatened to cut insurance for 20 million people, protection for people with pre-existing conditions, subsidies for low-income people, Medicaid expansions in many states, coverage for young adults up to age 26 and over.
The Court of Appeal committee agreed, 2-1, that the individual mandate is unconstitutional “because it can no longer be interpreted as a tax, and no other constitutional provision justifies this exercise of the power of Congress”, wrote Justice Jennifer Walker Elrod for the majority.
But rather than quashing the entire law, as O’Connor did, the panel remitted the case to the federal district court for “further analysis” on whether the individual warrant can be dissociated from the rest of the law. In doing so, the panel noted the changes in position of the Trump administration in the matter.
The Justice Department first sought to cancel the individual mandate, then joined Texas and other Republican-led states seeking to kill the entire law. Finally, he suggested that such a decision could only be applied in the 18 states that challenge it.
Dissenting judge Carolyn Dineen King described the decision of the court of appeal as “excessive judicial significance” which “ensures that no end to this litigation is in sight”.