Yesterday, a federal judge upheld a lower-court decision, ruling that Obamacare’s individual mandate was unconstitutional. The ruling sets the stage for the Supreme Court to deliver the final coup de grace to the signature achievement of Barack Obama and a nightmare for many Americans.
In 2017, Congress eliminated the tax penalty for not buying insurance. This should have killed Obamacare right there but the law had entwined itself so thoroughly into the health care system that killing it became a marathon, not a sprint.
“The individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power,” the ruling said. “On the severability question, we remand to the district court to provide additional analysis of the provisions of the ACA as they currently exist.”
Other parts of the law may survive, but the appeals court deferred to the lower court to decide the severability question —whether the entire law must be struck down or what parts of the law could still exist. It comes as the administration is working with Congress for a replacement health care reform law.
Severability is the issue that will probably end up before the Supreme Court. Sometime next year in the midst of the presidential campaign, SCOTUS will have to deal with supplying the final nail in Obamacare’s coffin.
“It may still be that none of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, even after this inquiry is concluded,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod said in her majority opinion. “It may be that all of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate. It may also be that some of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, and some is not.”
Dissenting Judge Carolyn Dineen King said her colleagues were prolonging “uncertainty over the future of the healthcare sector.” King said she would have found the mandate constitutional, although unenforceable, and left the rest of the law alone.
Senator Chuck Grassley, one of Obamacare’s fiercest opponents, summed up what the ruling means.
“In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, despite serious constitutional issues with the federal government forcing Americans to purchase a product from a private company. Until an ultimate decision is made by the Supreme Court or Congress decides otherwise, the Affordable Care Act will remain the law of the land,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement after the ruling. “Congress should work to ensure that no matter the ultimate outcome, Americans who have pre-existing conditions are protected from losing their insurance or facing discrimination. This is something that has broad, bipartisan support.”
As long as Obamacare was on the books, Democrats refused to consider any plan that did not have an individual mandate. Now that the mandate has been ruled to be illegal, maybe the Democrats will finally get serious about passing meaningful health insurance reforms.
More likely, since it’s a presidential election year, those reforms will have to wait for 2021.