Appeals Court Strikes Down Central Provision of Obamacare

ACA’s individual mandate

Re-examination of individual mandate next step

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down a central provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last week, ruling that the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires individuals to have health insurance coverage, is unconstitutional. 

In doing so, the court ignores the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in 2012 which upheld the individual mandate. Instead, the Fifth Circuit sent the case back to a federal district judge in Texas to re-examine whether the ACA can continue without the key provision of the individual mandate. This judge in 2018 deemed the entire ACA unconstitutional. 

“NASW is deeply disappointed in the appellate court’s decision, which creates uncertainty for millions of Americans and puts the ACA, consumer protections and Medicaid expansion at risk at a time when health care costs continue to skyrocket,” said Angelo McClain, chief executive officer of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). 

Over 17 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage if the ACA is thrown out. More than 50 million people with pre-existing medical conditions could be denied insurance, and insurers would no longer have to cover people up to age 26 on their parents’ plans. And until a decision is made, which could be well after the 2020 elections, insurers may back out of ACA’s programs or make other adjustments due to their lack of confidence in the survivability of the law. 

The reason the court was able to revisit the Supreme Court ruling is in 2017, Congress revised the law to eliminate the financial penalty for those who did not purchase individual insurance. Attorneys general from a number of states argued that the zero penalty introduced an unconstitutional legal obligation or mandate to purchase insurance. Further, they argued that individual mandate was the cornerstone of the ACA, and if it was invalid, so was the entire law. On this basis, they were able to launch a new challenge to the ACA.

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