Democrats seek clarity on ruling that overturns Affordable Care Act

More than a dozen Democratic state attorneys general are seeking clarification from a district court judge who ruled the entire Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional last week. 

The ruling, which stemmed from a Republican-launched lawsuit, potentially throws the American healthcare system into disarray, but the ACA still stands as law––for now.

That’s according to the White House and CMS, but Democrats are looking for more clarity from the judge himself, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor. Notably, O’Connor did not issue a stay––which would ensure that the ACA remains intact while the lawsuit continues through an appeals process––nor another order on the duties of those currently upholding the law in his Dec. 14 ruling.

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia, which have acted as intervening defendants of the ACA in the lawsuit after the Department of Justice refused to defend the law, filed a motion to clarify the ruling quickly at the risk of irreparable injury to their states and the public.

“The District Court’s ruling poses a dangerous threat to the healthcare of millions of Americans. We’re asking the court to make clear that the ACA is still the law and ensure that all Americans can continue to access affordable healthcare under it,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led the coalition of 17 attorneys general in filing the expedited motion, said in a statement. “Today’s filing makes clear that California and its partner states will do everything possible to challenge this reckless ruling that threatens the healthcare of Americans from California to Maine, risking the health of seniors, children, workers and young adults in every state in the nation.”  

The lawsuit is expected to be appealed by the defending states and could potentially reach the Supreme Court.

The ACA was signed into law in 2010 and led to a substantial reduction in the number of uninsured adults in the United States. The healthcare law included numerous provisions governing the entire healthcare insurance space, including popular provisions such as protections for those with pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26.  

It also contained an unpopular individual mandate, which required all eligible adults to purchase or enroll in healthcare insurance coverage, or face a tax penalty. Last year, Republicans effectively dismantled the tax penalty by zeroing out the amount for noncompliance. Without a tax penalty, Judge O’Connor ruled the entire ACA was unconstitutional.