Court ruling reignites ObamaCare fight for 2020

Court ruling reignites ObamaCare fight for 2020
© Getty

ObamaCare was thrust back into the 2020 spotlight on Wednesday after a federal appeals court ruling added new uncertainty over the law's future.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found the individual mandate unconstitutional, but avoided ruling on the entire law, instead sending the case back down to the district court level.

The lawsuit, which is supported by the Trump administration and was filed last year by Republican attorneys general, seeks to dismantle ObamaCare, which has grown in popularity after Congress failed to repeal it two years ago.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats used the ruling to revive their attacks on Republicans over health care — a strategy that helped them win back the House majority in 2018 and one they hope helps them take the White House in 2020. 

“The Republicans don’t have a plan. This is the party that has actively tried to take away my health care coverage for the last ten years,” said Rep. Lauren UnderwoodLauren UnderwoodHuman Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary Warren endorses 20 Democratic women for down-ballot races Millennials are the unseen leaders in the coronavirus crisis MORE (D-Ill.), whose seat Republicans are trying to flip in 2020. 

“I really don’t see where they go because the American people have already said decisively health care is their number one issue.”

The appellate court's ruling, in which two Republican appointed judges struck down the mandate, with the panel's lone Democratic appointee dissenting, means the case will go back to Texas district court Judge Reed O’Connor. O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, declared the entire law unconstitutional last December in a stunning decision.

The court agreed with O’Connor and the Republican plaintiffs who argue that ObamaCare’s insurance requirement is now unconstitutional because Congress eliminated the financial penalty in 2017. But the court asked O’Connor to reconsider whether the other parts of the massive health care law can stand — or must fall — without the penalty in place. 

The decision prolongs a lengthy legal and political battle.

ADVERTISEMENT

But it is one that could play to Democrats' advantage as they look to shift the focus from their impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump anti-reg push likely to end up in court Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE to other issues like health care that have proven more politically popular. 

“The American people see the work Democrats are doing to lower health care costs and the contrast that strikes with Republicans who continue their quiet campaign to leave millions of Americans with lower quality insurance, higher costs, and fewer protections,” said Cole Leiter, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrats were successful in tying Republicans to the lawsuit in 2018, accusing the party of trying to rip away ObamaCare’s protections for pre-existing conditions, which prevent insurance companies from denying care to sick people or charging them more.

“This lawsuit and the Trump administration’s support of this lawsuit, weighed heavily in the outcome of the 2018 elections,” said Brad Woodhouse, executive director of Protect Our Care, a pro-ObamaCare group. 

“It is what brought the issue of pre-existing conditions to the forefront, and if they think they’re going to get away without this being at the forefront of discussions in 2020... I guarantee you they got another thing coming,” he said, adding that his group plans to spend money in several states to highlight the lawsuit. 

California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraRipple Effect: When politics ignores science, it jeopardizes local clean water Republicans introduce bill to create legal 'safe harbor' for gig companies during the pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump orders cuts in regulations that 'inhibit economic recovery' | Green group calls for Energy secretary to step down over 'redlining' comment | Daily carbon emissions drop 17 percent MORE said Wednesday evening he plans to appeal the 5th Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court, hoping to speed up the process. 

A Supreme Court case on the future of ObamaCare would be certain to intensify the fight over the law, especially in an election year. 

Becerra and other Democratic attorneys general won the right to defend ObamaCare in court after the Trump administration’s Department of Justice declined to. 

In a major departure from normal practice, the DOJ has instead argued for the courts to strike down federal law.

Trump stood by that decision Wednesday, despite arguments from Democrats that it will be a political liability for him and Republicans in 2020. 

“Today’s decision...  is a win for all Americans and confirms what I have said all along: that the individual mandate, by far the worst element of Obamacare, is unconstitutional,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday evening. 

Polls show, however, that ObamaCare is popular among the American public: 52 percent said they viewed the law favorably in November, while 41 percent said they viewed it unfavorably. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The ruling will likely increase pressure on Trump and Republicans to release a plan to replace ObamaCare. 

Trump didn’t give any indication of a replacement plan Wednesday, but he has previously vowed to release one before the 2020 elections. 

“Providing affordable, high-quality healthcare will always be my priority,” Trump said in a statement.

“[Democrats] are trying to take away your healthcare, and I am trying to give the American people the best healthcare in the world,” he said, referring to growing support in the party for "Medicare for All," a single-payer system that would eliminate private insurance. 

In 2018, the ObamaCare lawsuit proved complicated for Republican lawmakers, who worried about the fallout the for 20 million people who rely on the law.

House Republicans said Wednesday that Congress should use the opportunity created by the court case to find bipartisan consensus on health care.

“The ACA [Affordable Care Act] continues to fail too many Americans and fails to deliver on its promises to lower premiums and offer better care,” said Reps. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns Top Commerce Republicans grill TikTok parent company Action on driverless cars hits speed bump as Congress focuses on pandemic MORE (R-Ore.), Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTrump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill Key House Republican calls Democrats' coronavirus bill a 'recipe for a prolonged recession' MORE (R-Texas), and Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO CEO Greenwood says US failed for years to heed warnings of coming pandemic; Trump: Fauci won't testify to 'a bunch of Trump haters' Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail Republicans seek information on Chinese ties to US universities MORE (R-N.C.), key Republicans who work on health care issues. 

“Instead of partisan impeachment theatrics or Medicare for All which cancels good health care plans for 180 million Americans, Congress should use this opportunity to work together to bring down the high costs of health care, something that Obamacare promised, but never delivered on."