As of the close of enrollment for Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there were over 8.5 million Americans who were signed up for coverage for 2019.
Since its initial passage into law in 2010, the ACA has been making controversial headlines. First, there was an uproar about so-called death panels, which turned out to simply be a scare tactic. Then, there were stories about people who liked their health insurance plans being unable to keep them, a broken promise from politicians. More recently, there’s been panic about the ACA getting repealed or replaced and leaving millions of Americans with lesser or no health insurance options.
So, what is really happening with the ACA?
A Federal Judge In Maryland Tossed A Suit To Protect The ACA
On Friday, February 2, 2019, federal judge Ellen L. Hollander, dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maryland’s Attorney General which aimed to protect the ACA from perceived efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the law. While this might seem like a loss for the ACA, it’s actually not really bad news: the judge dismissed the suit without prejudice, saying that she would consider reviving the suit if the state could provide more concrete evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of the administration.
The Washington Post published excerpts of Judge Hollander’s 48-page opinion, where she states that “the Trump administration’s decision not to defend parts of the ACA in court is not the same as failing to enforce it. The former amounts to a litigation position, the latter to potentially upending an industry that accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s economy.” She goes on to say that although “the president’s profound disdain for the ACA cannot be seriously disputed, neither the president’s zealous attempts to repeal the statute nor his derisive comments about it, support an inference that he will fail to enforce the law.”
Brian E. Frosh, the Maryland Attorney General who brought the suit to court has said that he understands Judge Hollander’s ruling and will wait to pursue his case further. According to the Washington Post article, “Frosh said that the ACA deserves court protection from a hostile president: ‘If you look at his actions, he’s done everything within his power to kill the Affordable Care Act.’”
Federal Judge In Texas Rules ACA Unconstitutional
Back in December 2018, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the ACA was unconstitutional, claiming that the individual coverage mandate was what made it legal in the first place and without that in place, the law cannot stand. The Houston Chronicle reports that a Wisconsin lawyer with the Federalist Society, Misha Tseytlin, is behind this lawsuit, having recognized a loophole surrounding the legality of the individual mandate.
Tseytlin discovered that in Chief Justice Roberts’ 2012 opinion that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act relied on the fact that he considered the individual mandate a tax. And with the elimination of the individual mandate by the Trump administration and the GOP, Tseytlin came to the conclusion that “if the law needs the mandate to work and the tax to make it constitutional, then eliminating tax should make the law unconstitutional.”
Many constitutional scholars, however, are skeptical about the legality of this logic. Many have recognized this line of thinking as creative, but have also raised the prospect of this simply being a case of judicial activism for political gain.
Judge Reed O’Connor, the federal judge who ruled on the case down in Texas, issued a 55-page opinion in which he claimed that “Congress ‘sawed off the last leg’ of the health care law by removing the tax penalty that had made the individual mandate constitutional under Roberts’ opinion.”
One concession, however, is that Judge O’Connor has allowed the law to stay in place while the issue is appealed in the higher courts. Legal scholars expect this case to end up being argued in front of the Supreme Court, most likely in 2020 or later.
The Future Of Healthcare In America
While political partisans duke it out in court, the court of public opinion overwhelmingly wants access to more affordable care. In fact, many people believe that the ACA doesn’t go far enough in terms of what the government should offer when it comes to affordable care.
The Democratic Presidential front-runners for 2020 all support some version of Medicare for All, and it’s bound to become a main focus of campaigns in the coming months.
2019 might bring exciting new pieces of legislation that help lower the cost of healthcare for everyone, which is a conversation worth having at any age. There’s no denying that the healthcare system here in America is broken and desperately needs to be fixed.