November 13, 2020
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, which could have a major impact on the U.S. healthcare system. While the ACA has faced many legal challenges and Congress has made numerous attempts to repeal it since its passage in 2010, the current case before the Supreme Court is the closest it has come to being completely overturned.
The last major case in the Supreme Court related to the ACA was back in 2015, when the makeup of the court was vastly different. Since that time, the Trump administration has appointed three new Supreme Court Justices, swinging the balance of the court to a conservative majority for the first time in decades. Some of the new Justices, including recently appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, previously expressed views that the ACA was unconstitutional prior to being appointed to the bench, worrying advocates of the ACA that the law could be overturned if challenged.
Luckily, the arguments presented on Tuesday appear to be signaling that the ACA will not be completely overturned. The current lawsuit, California v. Texas, hinges on three separate arguments:
- the individual mandate (aka the requirement to have health insurance) is no longer constitutional now that financial penalty has been set to zero as a result of the 2017 tax bill;
- the individual mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the law and therefore the whole law is unconstitutional if the individual mandate is struck down;
- the States’ standing (e.g. suffered injuries/damages) to bring the case to court
Based off of the arguments this week, the Supreme Court seems to have a majority that believes striking down one provision in the law does not invalidate the full law. Both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh, two conservative members of the court, appeared to join the liberal members on the court in supporting the position that the individual mandate being deemed unconstitutional did not require the full law to be struck down. If this holds up, it would mean that the ACA and its popular provisions, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions and Medicaid expansion, would stay in place even if the individual mandate goes away.
Losing healthcare coverage for millions of America would be a major blow in general, and especially in the midst of the pandemic, but supporters of the ACA are hopeful that the law will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. The Court is expected to issue a final ruling on the case in June 2021, but until that time the ACA continues to be the law of the land.
As the new Biden administration comes in, healthcare will continue to be a focal issue. As always, Aria will continue to track all healthcare policies and will be keeping an eye on how the new administration shapes the industry. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to keep your finger on the pulse of the latest healthcare policies and their impact on the healthcare IT world specifically.