A federal judge in Texas has ruled that the US healthcare law known as Obamacare is unconstitutional – a ruling that opposition Democrats condemned yesterday and vowed to appeal.
US District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling came on the eve of the deadline yesterday to sign up for 2019 coverage in the federal healthcare programme, known officially as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The White House expects the case to be appealed to the Supreme Court, saying in a statement that “pending the appeal process, the law remains in place”.
At the US Supreme Court, five justices in the nine-judge court who voted to uphold Obamacare in a separate case in 2012 are still on the bench.
Conservative Republicans have long opposed former president Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare plan, which he signed into law in 2010.
President Donald Trump made abolishing the programme one of his main campaign pledges.
The Texas-based judge said that the full Obamacare programme was unconstitutional because in last year’s tax overhaul, Congress eliminated a penalty for people who failed to sign up for the programme if they did not already have their own health insurance.
The 2012 case was over whether such a penalty was legal – but now that it is gone, O’Connor says the whole ACA should be stricken down because that provision is “the keystone” of the programme.
Trump lost no time in tweeting his delight at the court’s ruling on a complaint brought by several Republican attorneys general and two Republican governors.
“Wow, but not surprisingly, Obamacare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” he said.
Trump urged the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the House of Representatives speaker-designate, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, to “pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare”.
Angry Democrats vowed to fight back as they blamed Republicans for what they see as a debacle that will leave millions of Americans without healthcare.
Polls consistently show strong public support for the ACA guarantee of coverage regardless of pre-existing health conditions – an issue Democrats used with great success in last month’s mid-term elections as they won control of the House of Representatives.
“#Republicans’ legal crusade against the #AffordableCareAct is a political stunt, but a dangerous one that puts health coverage and vital health protections for millions of Americans at risk,” Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tweeted yesterday.
“They found one judge to agree, and now Medicaid expansion could be gone, pre-existing condition protections could be wiped out, prices skyrocket and millions lose insurance. And they call that success,” Democratic congressman Joe Kennedy wrote on the social media site.
O’Connor’s late Friday ruling “exposes the monstrous endgame of Republicans’ all-out assault on people with pre-existing conditions and Americans’ access to affordable healthcare”, Pelosi said in a statement.
While the court’s “absurd ruling will be immediately appealed, Republicans are fully responsible for this cruel decision”, she said.
She vowed that when Democrats take control of the House in January, lawmakers “will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process” to uphold Obamacare.
Opposing the Republican lawsuit were 17 Democratic attorneys general led by Xavier Becerra of California.
They argue that the tax law changes do not mean that the whole Affordable Care Act becomes unconstitutional.
The Texas ruling “is an assault on 133mn Americans with pre-existing conditions” and on “the 20mn Americans who rely on the ACA’s consumer protections for healthcare”, Becerra said in a statement.
“Our fight to save Obamacare is far from over. We will continue to fight these efforts to take Americans’ healthcare away,” he tweeted.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state where Trump is popular and whose conservative attorney general is one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, issued a statement attacking the ruling as “misguided and inhumane”.
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