The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional after a Texas-led team argued against a pro-mandate California-led group of states.
The ruling was appealed to the fifth circuit after a conservative-leaning Fort-Worth judge ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional as well. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said that because the individual mandate was unconstitutional, the entire law must fall as well, but the appeals court wasn’t ready to make that declaration. The issue of severability, whether part of the law can be ruled unconstitutional without taking down the entire law, was in question.
“All together, these observations highlight the need for a careful, granular approach to carrying out the inherently difficult task of severability analysis in the specific context of this case,” the opinion reads. “We are not persuaded that the approach to the severability question set out in the district court opinion satisfies that need.”
Removing the law could also jeopardize widely popular provisions like protections for those with pre-existing conditions. The current individual mandate penalty for those who don’t purchase insurance under the ACA was set at $0 by Congress in 2017, prompting the state of Texas to argue that it could no longer be considered a tax, making the law unconstitutional.
The case will be sent back down to O’Connor’s court to better explain why the entire law should be ruled unconstitutional. The law was leveled at the federal government, but the Trump Administration declined to defend the law, leaving the job to the state-led coalition which is running the trial now.
If the entire law were to be struck down, it could jeopardize the individual marketplace created by the ACA, which has begun to stabilize and is attracting more plans and options for those who don’t have health insurance through their employer. After years of quickly rising rates and insurance companies abandoning the marketplace, the individual market premiums have leveled off and have become an attractive option for insurers and customers alike.
“Today’s decision is a victory for the American people and respect for the Constitution,” said Robert Henneke, lead counsel for the individual plaintiffs and general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “The court’s opinion recognizes that Obamacare continues to injure millions of Americans like our clients who have lost their choice of doctor, suffered rationed care, and had their insurance costs skyrocket. This decision puts us one step closer to eventually freeing the American people from its unconstitutional mandates and regulations. We will continue to fight to protect the rights of families and individuals as the case continues to proceed through the courts.”
The Texas Democratic Party said the ruling would be “jeopardizing the healthcare of millions of Texans.”
“Texas already ranks dead last in health care coverage and millions of more Texans stand to lose coverage because of this reckless lawsuit. This is dead wrong. We should be fighting to protect and expand healthcare for all, not cutting off access for hundreds of millions of Americans,” said Democratic Party Chair Gilbert Hinojosa. “From pre-existing conditions protections to lowering prescription drug prices, we need a healthcare system that prioritizes the health of working-class families. Texas Democrats will continue to fight relentlessly for Texas families.”