Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affordable Care Act Appeal

March 2, 2020 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Supreme Court building, June 2019. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday granted petitions filed by the House and Democratic state officials to consider a lower court ruling that threatens to wipe out the Affordable Care Act.

The underlying case was brought by a Republican state official who argued that when Congress removed the Act’s requirement that the majority of Americans obtain health insurance, it also effectively rendered the law unconstitutional.

Democrats, worried about a potential change in the composition of the court, asked the justices to quickly intervene despite the fact several lower courts have yet to issue rulings on pending cases in their jurisdiction.

Not only do they want to bolster the law —  President Barack Obama’s signature achievement — but to also keep it in the public mind as voters across the United States go to the polls in their respective primaries.

That effort comes against a backdrop in which a federal judge in Texas has already ruled the entire Act was invalidated once the so-called “individual mandate” was removed. The judge stayed the ruling, pending appeals.

In December, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the mandate was unconstitutional but declined to rule on the remainder of the Act, asking the lower court to reconsider the question in more detail.

The Democratically controlled states and the House asked the high court to place their appeal of that ruling on a fast track. However, in January, the court turned down that request.

In the alternative, the House and the Democratic states asked the court to hear the case on its regular schedule, arguing review is warranted because part of a federal law had been held to be unconstitutional.

They also argued the lower court rulings that have occurred create “problematic” uncertainty for individuals, businesses, and state and local governments who need to make important decisions based on their reliance on the Act.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The Affordable Care Act is an essential pillar of health and financial security for American families, and its protections are even more critical during a dangerous epidemic.” 

“But even in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, the Trump Administration continues to ask the court to destroy protections for people with pre-existing conditions and tear away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans,” she said.

Also commenting on Monday’s developments was Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who said, “If the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act, tens of millions of people will lose their health insurance and patients will be unable to access the critical treatments and medicines they need.

“In short, there will be widespread uncertainty, and Republicans have no alternative plan to prevent chaos. This is not hyperbole, it is the reality that we as a country must brace for if Republicans win their extremely harmful case,” Neal said.

In response, the Trump administration contends the case isn’t ripe for Supreme Court review, “because the court of appeals did not definitively resolve any question of practical consequence.”

As is their custom, the Justices did not explain why they are taking up the case or when it will be heard.

It is likely it will be heard and decided in the spring of 2021.

“The sooner the GOP’s dangerous anti-health care lawsuit is ended, the better,” Pelosi said.  “Every day, the Affordable Care Act provides lifesaving protections and coverage for families across America.  Democrats will continue to fight in the courts and the Congress to defend and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and lower health costs for all Americans.”

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