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Coalition of State AGs Challenge Ruling of Unconstitutional ACA

A coalition of state attorney generals has filed a motion in response to a recent ruling that the law is unconstitutional without the individual mandate.

Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional

Source: Thinkstock

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- Following a December 14 ruling stating the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional without its individual mandate, attorney generals from 16 states and the District of Columbia filed an expedited motion to bring clarity to the law’s status.

“The District Court’s ruling poses a dangerous threat to the healthcare of millions of Americans. We’re asking the court to make clear that the ACA is still the law and ensure that all Americans can continue to access affordable healthcare under it,” said California Attorney General Becerra, who is spearheading the coalition.

“Today’s filing makes clear that California and its partner states will do everything possible to challenge this reckless ruling that threatens the healthcare of Americans from California to Maine, risking the health of seniors, children, workers and young adults in every state in the nation,” he continued. “Our coalition will continue to fight to preserve access to healthcare, which is critical to the strength of our nation.” 

The coalition officially filed its motion on December 17 in federal court in northern Texas with the main argument centering on the uncertainty District Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision is expected to cause.

The Court’s Order has already generated confusion about whether the ACA will remain enforceable once the Act’s penalty for failing to maintain minimum coverage is reduced to $0 on January 1, 2019,” the filing states. “An order clarifying the import of the Court’s ruling would help quell concerns about the effect of the December 14, ruling while this litigation continues and provide peace of mind to millions of Americans relying on the ACA for health insurance in 2019.”

Additionally, the coalition of state AGs is requesting a stay pending an appeal.

“The extraordinary circumstances here clearly justify a stay,” the plaintiffs argue. “The ACA touches nearly every aspect of the nation’s healthcare system. Treating the Court’s Order as immediately effective would create widespread harm and confusion. Giving the Court’s Order the effect of an immediate, unstayed injunction would therefore irreparably harm the Defendant States, their residents, and millions of others who depend on the ACA for access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.”

Regarding the appeal itself, the filing calls for a “prompt appellate review” and includes a request the court to enter a partial final judgment or to certify the ruling to speed along the appeals process.

The filing seeks a December 21 deadline for the court to issue a ruling on the motion.

“A ruling on this motion before that date is necessary to clarify the rights and responsibilities of the parties and the public beginning in the new year. The possibility of a federal government shutdown also supports clarification by December 21, 2018,” it states.

In this ruling last week, Judge O’Connor argued that the individual mandate, which Congress effectively eliminated, is inseverable from the remaining provisions of the bill and therefore renders the entire ACA invalid.

“In some ways, the question before the Court involves the intent of both the 2010 and 2017 Congresses. The former enacted the ACA. The latter sawed off the last leg it stood on,” he concluded.

Judge O’Connor denied a request for an injunction, so the law remains in effect. HHS Secretary Alex Azar issued a statement reinforcing that the ACA remains the law of the land.

“The recent US District Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act is not an injunction that halts the enforcement of the law and not a final judgment,” he stated Monday. “Therefore, HHS will continue administering and enforcing all aspects of the ACA as it had before the court issued its decision. This decision does not require that HHS make any changes to any of the ACA programs it administers or its enforcement of any portion of the ACA at this time.”

“As always, the Trump Administration stands ready to work with Congress on policy solutions that will deliver more insurance choices, better healthcare, and lower costs while continuing to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions,” Azar added.

The fate of the ACA remains uncertain, the only certainty as of late.

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