Federal judge strikes down Obamacare; not so fast, say analysts

/ 11:50 PM December 19, 2018

Affordable Care Act supporters. AP PHOTO

The Affordable Care Act was again thrust into uncertainty with Federal District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling Friday, Dec. 17, that eliminating the tax penalty for not having insurance renders the entire law unconstitutional.

A special bonus episode of KHN’s “What the Health?” discussed the ramifications of this ruling. The podcast featured panelists Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal and Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post.

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Among the takeaways:

  • Because Judge Reed O’Connor did not issue an injunction after ruling the ACA unconstitutional, supporters of the law cannot file immediately for an appeal. The process will be more complicated.
  • Although conservative legal scholars likely might agree with the judge that the mandate to have coverage cannot stand without the penalty — based on Chief Justice John Roberts’ landmark ruling in the first challenge to the law — many did not expect that other broad aspects of the ACA would also be thrown out in this case.
  • Although the issue will play out in the courts, Congress will face pressure on how to handle the decision. Lawmakers could easily remedy this situation by instituting a 1-cent penalty against people who don’t have insurance. But finding consensus on a plan forward looks difficult.
  • Much of the focus by the public after the decision has been on the 10 million people who buy insurance through the ACA marketplaces and the 12 million who are covered through their states’ Medicaid expansion. But the law had much broader reach, including protections for people with preexisting conditions, an end to lifetime caps for all consumers, requirements on how much of their revenue insurers must spend on customers’ coverage and efforts to improve quality at hospitals, nursing homes and doctors’ offices.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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TAGS: “What the Health?”, Affordable Care Act, health law, health law constitutionality, Judge Reed O’Connor, Obamacare
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