On December 18, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans struck down the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional. This decision did not invalidate the entirety of the Act, but rather it sent the case “back to a federal district judge in Texas to ‘conduct a more searching inquiry’ into which of the law’s many parts could survive without the mandate”.

While the individual mandate was originally considered critical to the law’s function to protect people with preexisting conditions, Congress has since rendered it ineffectual.

This case, heard by a three-judge panel, serves as “the final zinger in a year of political battles over the future of the Affordable Care Act”, as well as in the continuous political dialogue surrounding Medicare-for-all and reducing health care costs.

Unless the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case immediately, the future of the ACA will remain unclear until after the 2020 presidential election. Currently, the Trump Administration refuses to defend the ACA, so California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has taken on that role in court, leading 21 states in arguing to preserve the law.

“For California, and I think millions of Americans, it is indispensable to get clarity and certainty… and the best way to get certainty is to go to the Supreme Court. We will do it in due speed and deliberatively,” Becerra said.

If the Affordable Care Act were thrown out, over 17 million Americans could lose coverage, and over 50 million people with preexisting conditions would be in danger of having their coverage denied.

New York Times 12/18/19; Washington Post 12/19/19; Politico 12/19/19

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