(CNN) – A federal court of appeals determined that the individual mandate of the Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional. However, the judges did not invalidate the entire measure, which is still in force.
It is likely that the decision – taken in the Fifth Court of Appeals of the US Circuit. with 2 votes in favor and 1 against – postpone any action of the Supreme Court on Obamacare until after the 2020 elections, but again puts the issue of medical insurance at the forefront of the election campaign. The challenge that gave rise to the court ruling was filed by Texas and a coalition of Republican states, later the Trump administration joined the measure, arguing that the entire law should be eliminated.
Now, the determination of the court should not affect the millions of Americans who in recent weeks signed up for medical coverage in 2020. As of December 7, nearly 3.9 million people have selected policies, but millions more subscribed to policies or their registration was automatically renewed until the end of the registration period, which ended on Wednesday morning in many states. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular provisions of the law, remain in effect.
This challenge to Obamacare is part of what was once considered a long-term attempt to overturn the law, after an effort to revoke it in 2017, led by the Democrats, failed in Congress at the last minute due to the vote of the deceased. Arizona senator John McCain. However, now two courts have supported the argument that a key part of Obamacare – the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance – is no longer constitutional.
“The most direct reading applies: the mandate is an order. Using that meaning, the individual mandate is unconstitutional, ”says the ruling on Wednesday.
Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, appointed by President George W. Bush, and Kurt Engelhardt, appointed by Trump, were a majority. Judge Carolyn Dineen King, whom President Jimmy Carter appointed, disagreed.
The demand of John Roberts and Texas
Legal challenges against Obamacare have continually challenged predictions and their fate may be even more difficult to anticipate during the 2020 presidential election year, apart from the fact that it will remain in force.
- LOOK: They try to eliminate it everywhere, but Obamacare still resists
This Wednesday, the appeals court told a lower court that it should consider whether the individual mandate can be separated from the rest of the law or not.
Texas and other Republican-led states contested Obamacare after Congress, a Republican majority in 2017, reduced the tax fine to zero for those without medical insurance. When the Supreme Court and its president, John Roberts, confirmed the mandatory individual insurance requirement in 2012, the majority had relied on the tax power of Congress.
But, since the individual mandate is no longer linked to a specific tax fine, the states argue that it is unconstitutional. They also point out that because the individual mandate is intertwined with a multitude of health law provisions, invalidating it should void all Obamacare, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Last winter, the judge of the United States District Court, Reed O'Connor, agreed and overturned the entire law.
Most of the appeals court aligned with this decision.
In 2012, “the individual mandate – which reads naturally as an order to buy insurance – was saved from unconstitutionality because it could be considered along with the payment of shared responsibility as an option to buy insurance or pay a tax,” said the Wednesday's ruling.
“You could read this way because the shared responsibility payment produced income. He doesn't do it anymore, ”the judges added. “Therefore, the most direct reading applies: the mandate is an order. Using that meaning, the individual mandate is unconstitutional, ”completes the decision.
Proponents of the decision, which include California and other states ruled by Democrats, as well as the House of Representatives also led by this party, have argued that the action of Congress in 2017 affected only the amount of the tax fine, not the individual mandate or the law as a whole. They say that if lawmakers wanted to repeal the additional Obamacare regulations, they would have done so already.
The Department of Health and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administer the Affordable Health Care Act, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
What happens now?
In its ruling, the court ordered the lower court to review two issues: how much of the entire law can be left firm and whether it should be applied throughout the country.
The appeals court said that O'Connor went too far when it invalidated the entire rule and that it needs to explain "precisely" what it thinks should happen next.
They advised O'Connor to examine the issue in great detail and conduct a "more thorough investigation" of the provisions of Congress that were intended to be inseparable from the individual mandate.
"The law requires a careful and precise explanation," the court insisted.
The judges also said that O'Connor must review the law again after the Trump administration presented new arguments that the Obamacare should only be affected to the extent that it applies to the states that filed the lawsuit.
The court acknowledged that when the lower court reviews its opinion, it could once again argue that the entire law must be revoked. But, it also urges limits.
"It is not a small thing for judges not elected and with life charges to declare unconstitutional the legislation duly enacted approved by the elected representatives of the American people."