A Texas judge has ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in its entirety, throwing the American healthcare system into an uncertain future.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit launched by 20 Republican governors and attorneys general that argued because the tax penalty provision of the healthcare law had been reduced to zero in 2017, the law was no longer constitutional. The Department of Justice, which is generally tasked with defending the law, took the extraordinary step of largely agreeing with the plaintiffs in the case and stated it would not defend the ACA in the case.
The judgment, handed down on Friday, Dec. 14, overturns the ACA, including its many popular provisions, such as protections for those with pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26. More than 100 million people could be impacted by the pre-existing conditions provision alone if the ruling stands.
"In sum, the Individual Mandate 'is so interwoven with [the ACA's] regulations that they cannot be separated. None of them can stand,'" U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor wrote in his judgment.
While the judge’s ruling is clear, the case will be appealed by California, and the White House and CMS have stated the ACA will remain as current law until the appeals process has been completed.
“The recent federal court decision is still moving through the courts and the work of the Innovation Center will continue unchanged,” CMS wrote in a statement. “We remain committed to our current and future models as well as our focus on better health outcomes at lower cost.”
President Trump was enthusiastic about the news.
“Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!” he tweeted on Friday.
Trump further stated Republicans now have a chance to pass a better healthcare law. However, Republican failed to pass their plan, the American Health Care Act, in 2017, and attacks to the ACA have so far died out in Congress.
Friday’s decision was immediately met with significant backlash from industry stakeholders, including the American Medical Association, which will work on appeal efforts.
"Today’s decision is an unfortunate step backward for our health system that is contrary to overwhelming public sentiment to preserve pre-existing condition protections and other policies that have extended health insurance coverage to millions of Americans,” AMA President Barbara L. McAneny, MD, said in a statement. “It will destabilize health insurance coverage by rolling back federal policy to 2009. No one wants to go back to the days of 20 percent of the population uninsured and fewer patient protections, but this decision will move us in that direction.”