The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act on Thursday after a group of Republican-led states challenged its legality, keeping health care coverage intact for more than 30 million people.
In a 7-2 ruling, the high court said the states, led by Texas, did not show sufficient injury to strike down any part of the health care law.
“Neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have shown that the injury they will suffer or have suffered is ‘fairly traceable’ to the ‘allegedly unlawful conduct of which they complain,’” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority ruling in the case, California et al. v. Texas et al.
Republicans have tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to repeal Obamacare since 2012, when the court, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., upheld the massive health care law’s individual mandate as a tax to prod healthy people to sign up for insurance.
Congress enacted President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010. The law protects people with preexisting conditions from being denied insurance coverage. It also expands Medicaid and ensures that Americans who don’t have coverage through their employers can obtain affordable health care.
In 2017, the Republican majority in Congress approved tax cuts that put the penalty for not buying health insurance at $0. A group of 18 conservative states led by Texas and joined by two individuals argued that eliminating the tax penalty made the entire program unconstitutional, based on the justices’ 2012 ruling.
The Justice Department agreed, but 20 Democratic-controlled states, led by California, said the challenge to Obamacare was a political attempt to dismantle the entire health care law.
In Thursday’s ruling, the court didn’t indicate whether eliminating the tax invalidated the law altogether. Instead, the justices found that by setting the penalty at $0, the states and plaintiffs are not harmed and therefore do not have the standing to sue.
Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch disagreed with the majority. They argued that states had the standing to challenge the law.
“The Court is presented with the daunting problem of a ‘tax’ that does not tax,” Justice Alito wrote in a dissent joined by Justice Gorsuch. “Even $1 in harm is enough to support standing. Yet no State has standing?”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the ruling protects millions of Americans who rely on the law’s patient protections and affordability.
“Today’s decision affirms, once again and hopefully for the last time, that the ACA is the law of the land. Americans know health coverage can mean the difference between life and death, so families across the country should rest easy tonight knowing their health care is safe,” Mr. Bonta said. “No one should live in fear of being denied the lifesaving care they are entitled to.”
About 31 million Americans receive health care coverage through the Obamacare marketplace or Medicaid expansion.
Still, the National Center for Health Statistics found that 33.2 million Americans didn’t have coverage in 2019.
President Biden, who was vice president when the Affordable Care Act was enacted, said the Supreme Court ruling Thursday protects millions of Americans who would have been in danger of losing health care coverage in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than 1.2 million Americans signed up for coverage under the law through a special enrollment period I established during this pandemic, which people can still sign up for through August 15th,” Mr. Biden said. “And I look forward to working with the Congress to build on this law so that the American people will continue to have access to quality and affordable health care.”
Under the Biden administration, the Affordable Care Act is expanding. The Democratic president wants all Americans to have health care coverage.
His COVID-19 relief bill enacted this year increased subsidies for private insurance plans through Obamacare.
Republican lawmakers said the high court‘s decision doesn’t alter the reality that Obamacare hurts hardworking Americans.
“The American people want a health care system that is simple, personalized, patient-centered, transparent, cost-effective, and innovative. House Republicans are committed to actually lowering health care costs, protecting those with preexisting conditions, and providing Americans more health care options that best fit their personal health needs. Meanwhile the Democrats continue to push more and more control into the hands of Washington bureaucrats,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, joined by other Republican leaders.
Republicans hoped the high court would rule against Obamacare after President Trump’s three appointees created a 6-3 majority of conservatives.
Senate Democrats quizzed Justice Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings last year, about how she would rule in the case. They accused her of being ready to strip away Obamacare coverage.
“At first blush, this decision is a slap in the face to every single American who fought to create a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. The only thing that gives me pause is [Justice] Clarence Thomas joining Roberts in the majority, as he has been a consistent standard-bearer for constitutional liberties and limited government,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.
“This court cannot be depended upon when it comes to overturning legislative abuses of power. As originalists, the Trump appointees will find a way to defer to Congress in a vast majority of cases regardless of the specific legislation under consideration,” he said.
The closest Republicans came to dismantling Obamacare was in the summer of 2017, when Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, bucked his party and voted against repealing the law.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who joined Texas in an attempt to dismantle the individual mandate, said the court ducked the important constitutional question involved in the lawsuit.
“This case was always about: one, ensuring that individuals could not be coerced into purchasing health insurance against their will; and, two, making the insurance system far more affordable for hard-working Americans. Too many West Virginians have suffered from skyrocketing premiums and need better, more affordable health care options. We will keep fighting for affordable coverage and against coercive, individual mandates that represent the opposite of freedom,” Mr. Morrisey said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used the ruling to tout Democrats’ work in Congress and take a jab at Republicans.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a landmark victory for Democrats’ work to defend protections for people with preexisting conditions against Republicans’ relentless efforts to dismantle them,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “We will never forget how Republican leaders embraced this monstrous suit to rip away millions of Americans’ health care in the middle of a deadly pandemic.”