Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Affordable Care Act

Joanna Estrada
June 18, 2021

It marked the third time the court has preserved Obamacare since its 2010 enactment.

The law's challengers, 18 red states led by Texas, urged the court to rule that Obamacare's requirement for almost all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay an income tax penalty - known as the individual mandate - is unconstitutional. They argued that if Congress meant to get rid of the law then it would have done so in the 2017 tax reform law, but it did not.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a Republican bid that had been backed by former president Donald Trump's administration to invalidate the Obamacare health-care law, ruling that Texas and other challengers had no legal standing to file their lawsuit.

The law's major provisions include protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, a range of no-cost preventive services and the expansion of the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people, including those who work in jobs that don't pay much or provide health insurance. Biden served as vice president under Obama.

But in the decision, Justice Stephen Breyer said the states don't have standing to challenge the individual mandate "because they have not shown a past or future injury fairly traceable to defendants' conduct enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional". The shell of the mandate is "clearly unconstitutional, and to the extent that the provisions of the ACA that burden the States are inextricably linked to the individual mandate, they too are unenforceable", he wrote.

After Texas and other states sued, a coalition of 20 states including Democratic-governed California and NY and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives intervened in the case to try to preserve Obamacare after Trump refused to defend the law.

"Despite every desperate right-wing attack to rip health care away from millions of Americans, the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and it's here to stay", said Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of MA. Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were the only members of the nine-person court who dissented.

The Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 also fended off previous Republican challenges to Obamacare. There is broad public support for its requirement that insurance companies cover pre-existing health conditions. About 1 million people have signed up with HealthCare.gov since Biden reopened enrollment amid high levels of COVID cases earlier this year. Biden and other Democrats had criticised Republican efforts to strike down the law at a time when the United States was grappling with a deadly coronavirus pandemic.

"It is a naked command to purchase health insurance, and, as such, it falls outside Congress' enumerated powers", he said. In December 2016, just before Obama left office and Trump swept in calling the ACA a "disaster", 46% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the law, while 43% approved, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll.

Opposition to Obamacare seems to have receded as a political issue for Republicans as the party has emphasized other matters such as immigration, voting restrictions and hot-button cultural issues.

Roberts cast the key vote in a 5-4 decision that stunned Republicans, holding that the law's individual coverage mandate was valid under Congress' taxing power.

In 2017, as part of the GOP's tax cut package, Congress zeroed out the penalty for being uninsured, nullifying the individual mandate.

The case, California v. Texas, was the third challenge of the Affordable Care Act that the Supreme Court has heard.

Alito criticized the majority, writing that "i$3 nstead of defending the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the Court simply ducks the issue and holds that none of the Act's challengers, including the 18 States that think the Act saddles them with huge financial costs, is entitled to sue".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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