Judge Reed O’Connor
S P E C I A L R E P O R T
This is an evolving story so between the time it is being written on Monday, December 17th and the time you read it, more comments will be added and more angles on the subject will be taken.
What won’t change is the basics.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas has — in effect — with one stroke of the pen, has done away with the Affordable Care Act. He agreed with a suit filed by 20 states that said because Congress eliminated the penalty for not signing up for ObamaCare, the entire law is invalid and therefore unconstitutional.
The penalty — known as the individual mandate — required all Americans to have health insurance or face a huge fine. It was done away with by Congress when the so-called Trump tax cuts were signed into law late last year.
O’Connor began his decision saying it will be shocking and will send shockwaves throughout the country. That is almost an understatement.
“The United States healthcare system touches millions of lives in a daily and deeply personal way. Health-insurance policy is therefore a politically charged affair — inflaming emotions and testing civility,” O’Connor noted and then said, “In some ways, the question before the Court involves the intent of both the 2010 and 2017 Congresses. The former enacted the ACA. The latter sawed off the last leg it stood on.”
In conclusion, O’Connor said, “The individual mandate is so interwoven with the ACA’s regulations that they cannot be separated. None of them can stand,” and then concluded, “The remainder of the ACA is non-severable from the individual mandate, meaning that the Act must be invalidated in whole.”
The reaction was immediate. Republicans — other than President Trump — have been pretty quiet. Democrats — as expected — and health groups were upset and very critical of the decision.
As soon as he heard the ruling, the president tweeted, “Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!”
In second tweet Trump said, “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch [McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader] and Nancy [Pelosi, the assumed next Speaker of the House], get it done!”
So what happens in the meantime? Trump — via Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders — said the law will remain in place until the expected appeal reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Court’s decision does not affect this season's open enrollment,” Verma said on Twitter.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer jumped on the decision. An appeal will be filed and he hopes somewhere along the line O’Connor’s decision will be overturned.
“If this awful ruling is upheld in the higher courts, it will be a disaster for tens of millions of American families, especially for people with pre-existing conditions,” Schumer said. “The ruling seems to be based on faulty legal reasoning and hopefully it will be overturned. Americans who care about working families must do all they can to prevent this district court ruling from becoming law.”
The presumptive next Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said “the district court ruling in Republicans’ lawsuit seeks to subvert the will of the American people and sow chaos in the final day of HealthCare.gov open enrollment.”
She noted the House “will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the life-saving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans' effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.”
The resolution Pelosi will get passed will allow the body’s general counsel to defend the Affordable Care Act on behalf of the House.
“The GOP Congress tried and failed to destroy the Affordable Care Act and protections for pre-existing conditions. Then, in the midterm election, the American people delivered a record-breaking margin of almost 10 million votes against House Republicans’ vile assault on health care,” she said.
But do Republicans want the pre-existing condition aspect of the law done away with? Before last month’s election — and before this decision — Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell said, “There’s nobody in the Senate that I’m familiar with who is not in favor of coverage of pre-existing conditions.”
How will the decision resonate with the people?
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s ObamaCare poll — conducted in November — said 53% of us favor the law.
The 20 states forming the coalition challenging the law are the PIA Western Alliance state of Arizona and the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The coalition is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel. Both are Republicans and are pleased with Judge O’Connor’s decision.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led the opposition. He said an appeal will be filed and thinks the ruling will eventually be overturned because the “ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court.”
On the ruling itself, Becerra said, “Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA’s consumer protections for health care, on America’s faithful progress toward affordable health care for all Americans.”
The last word on the subject belongs to former president Barack Obama. He attacked the decision on social media and urged people to continue signing up for health care through the Affordable Care Act’s various websites.
“You might have heard about a federal court decision on a Republican lawsuit trying to strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety,” he said on Facebook. “As this decision makes its way through the courts, which will take months, if not years, the law remains in place and will likely stay that way.”
So for now — Obama said — nothing will change. “A lot of good people are fighting to ensure that nothing about your care will change. The ACA protects your pre-existing conditions, no matter how you get your insurance,” Obama said. “But all of this should also be a reminder that Republicans will never stop trying to undo all that. If they can’t get it done in Congress, they’ll keep trying in the courts, even when it puts people’s pre-existing conditions coverage at risk.”
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Source links: Reuters, The Hill, Fortune, NPR, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, The Washington Post