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A federal judge in Texas late Friday threw the health coverage of some 20 million Americans in limbo by ruling Obamacare must be scrapped because Congress struck the penalty for failing to obtain insurance coverage.
The invalidation of the landmark 2010 law is certain to send shock waves through the U.S. health system and Washington after a midterm election seen in part as a rebuke to Republican efforts to tear down Obamacare.
The decision will be immediately appealed, said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led a group of blue states in intervening to defend the law. It could ultimately become the third major Obamacare case to be taken up by the Supreme Court, which has twice voted to uphold the law.
U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee in Fort Worth, Texas, issued the decision gutting the law in response to a lawsuit from 20 conservative-led states that sought to have the Affordable Care Act tossed out. They successfully argued that the mandate penalty was a critical linchpin of the law and that without it, the entire frameworks is rendered unconstitutional.
“In sum, the Individual Mandate ‘is so interwoven with [the ACA’s] regulations that they cannot be separated. None of them can stand,’” O’Connor wrote in his decision.
The decision came a little more than 24 hours before the sign-up period for 2019 Obamacare coverage is set to close.
Republicans zeroed out the mandate penalty as part of their 2017 overhaul of the tax code. It’s slated to disappear next year.
The Justice Department took the unusual stance of partially siding with the conservative states seeking to strike down the law. As a result, 16 mostly Democratic-led states intervened in the case to try and save Obamacare. But O’Connor didn’t agree with their argument that by striking the tax penalty but leaving the rest of the federal health care law in place, Congress had clearly indicated its belief that they weren’t inseparable.
Many legal experts are skeptical that the lawsuit will ultimately succeed. But the victory at the lower court level means that there will be a cloud hanging over the future of the law for months, if not years, to come.
House Democrats, who won back the chamber after campaigning heavily on defending protections for pre-existing conditions, have been weighing different options for saving Obamacare when their new majority is seated early next month. One possibility is passing a resolution authorizing the House general counsel to defend the health care law on the chamber’s behalf.
The ruling puts the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers in a bind. They’ve promised to save pre-existing condition protections if the court threw them out, but for years been unable to agree on an Obamacare alternative that would maintain the law’s stringent safeguards.
Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who oversees Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces, told reporters late last month the administration had a back-up plan if the court overturned the law. She declined to provide specifics at the time.
Neither the White House nor HHS immediately responded to requests for comment.
So after repeated attempts Republicans found a judge that goes along with their desire to strip insurance from thousands of Americans, including children with no other access to healthcare insurance.
Considering the history of judicial rulings it’s doubtful that this decision will stand.
". . . those who claim to know the Mind of God, who will tell you what God thinks and how He will judge and condemn others—those people are the greatest of all blasphemers." Aloysius Xingu Leng Pendergast
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