Judge Stays Affordable Care Act Ruling

A federal judge has issued a stay on his decision declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor oversaw a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. O’Connor struck down the heath care law on Dec. 14 after siding with plaintiffs in the case.

The reasoning behind the Dec. 14 decision was clear. When the Supreme Court upheld the health care law in 2012, it was on the grounds that Congress could issue the individual mandate as part of its taxation powers. The tax cut legislation passed by the Republican Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in 2017 reduced that tax penalty to zero.

According to the plaintiffs in the case, the mandate doesn’t qualify as a tax if it doesn’t actually require payment of money. That means that when the tax penalty for not buying insurance was removed by Congress, it also removed the constitutional foundation for the law. The judge agreed and that decision meant the rest of the law was invalid as well. 

The judge’s ruling, if upheld, would wipe away the entire Affordable Care Act. Every single provision of the law, including the coverage expansion, the new requirements on food menu labeling, and the new changes to hospital payments, would suddenly become invalid. With the stay in place, the Affordable Care Act’s provisions will continue as normal while the case moves through the federal court system.

A group of states and congressional representatives have already announced they will appeal O’Connor’s decision, which will next be heard by the Fifth Circuit. If the ruling is upheld there, it is expected that the case would head to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has already heard two major lawsuits that sought to declare the health care law unconstitutional. The first one was mostly rejected while the entirety of the second was nullified.