Politics

SCOTUS hears arguments in a case that has the potential to wipe out major parts of Obamacare

PHOTO CREDITS: QUARTZ

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a case that has the potential to wipe out major parts of Obamacare, specifically determining whether the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for minimum coverage is constitutional.

During the hearings on Tuesday, several conservative justices joined liberals skeptical of claims that the entire health-care overhaul must fall because Congress reduced the penalty for failing to carry insurance to zero. Republicans in Congress reduced that tax to zero, and GOP-led states sued, saying the ACA is no longer valid without a monetary penalty. Some legal observers said Congress’s action suggested it wasn’t intending to wipe out the entire ACA but simply sought to end the tax burden on individuals.

This is the third major Obamacare case to come before the high court. No timetable for arguments was issued, despite Democrats’ appeal that the case be fast-tracked. That likely means arguments will be scheduled for the fall, making it likely a ruling would not come until spring 2021 at the earliest. The case is an appeal of a lower court ruling in Texas that declared the law unconstitutional, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed the law’s individual mandate was unconstitutional but did not weigh in on the overall law’s unconstitutionality.

Democrats worry the new makeup of the Supreme Court could end the health insurance reform measure, Obama’s signature achievement, that was designed to make coverage available for the millions of Americans who lacked coverage. Its most popular features included coverage for preexisting conditions and the ability for children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

Before the adoption of the ACA, 44 million Americans were uninsured. That number was reduced to 27.4 million by 2017. Some 8.3 million Americans signed up through the federal marketplace for 2020 coverage. The measure came under criticism for its failure to keep a lid on premiums and healthcare costs in general. Democrats see the healthcare as a key issue for the 2020 campaign.

The case before the court was initiated by Republican state officials arguing the congressional decision in 2017 to eliminate the fines imposed for failing to obtain coverage rendered the law unconstitutional. The administration argues that without the mandate, the healthcare law cannot survive. In a brief filed by lawyers supporting the ACA, Democrats argued businesses and governments make major decisions based on the ACA and need uncertainty about the act’s viability to be resolved while the Trump administration argued there’s no rush for the Supreme Court to hear the case and should allow the issues to be adjudicated fully in the lower courts first.

It is difficult to say for sure, but many legal observers don’t expect the Supreme Court to invalidate the ACA. Chief Justice John Roberts told the Texas solicitor general, Kyle Hawkins, on Tuesday, that it was hard to argue that Congress wanted to invalidate the law since it chose not to repeal it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said last month: “No one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act.” The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the ACA in 2012 by saying the penalty on people who don’t have insurance fell within Congress’s power to levy taxes. The ruling found that the penalty was a tax so the law was valid. Since then, however, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a key swing vote on the court, retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh (IB Times).

POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

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