On Wednesday the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas judge’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, sending the landmark health care law back to Texas Judge Reed O’Connor and asking him to determine which parts of the law should be struck down.
Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso applauded the decision.
“The 5th Circuit finally ruled what we all knew: The individual mandate is unconstitutional,” he said in a statement.
What the ruling means for patients and those on health insurance plans covered by the legislation is unclear. O’Connor originally struck down the entire law in his decision a year ago, but the panel of judges asked him to “conduct a more searching inquiry.”
The law remains in place while O’Connor reconsiders which parts can stand. Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives issued a statement that echoed the gist of Barrasso’s words.
“It becomes even more clear that Democrats wrote a law that violates the Constitution,” the statement says.
The individual mandate has stood the test of legal scrutiny before. In 2012 the Affordable Care Act came before the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the law and the mandate specifically. The court said the monetary penalty imposed on people who don’t sign up for health insurance was within Congress’ ability to tax the American people.
O’Connor ruled the mandate to be unconstitutional — and the rest of the law with it — because congressional Republicans zeroed out the penalty in the 2017 tax overhaul. Since the individual mandate was no longer a tax, he said, it was unconstitutional, and he ruled that the rest of the law couldn’t stand because the mandate is an inextricable piece of it.
The 5th Circuit asked O’Connor to consider several outcomes, including a Justice Department proposal that the ruling apply only in states that challenged the law in court.
Wyoming, which did not expand Medicaid under the 2010 legislation, is not a party to the suit.
The court also told O’Connor to weigh legislators’ intent when they nixed the individual mandate’s penalty, essentially asking him to interpret whether they meant for the rest of the law to fall as well. Republican lawmakers championed the tax bill, and at least some of them have alluded the law could stand without the mandate.
“I am not aware of a single senator who said they were voting to repeal Obamacare when they voted to eliminate the individual mandate penalty” as part of the 2017 tax overhaul, Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement. The Republican from Tennessee is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
In his statement on the ruling, Barrasso plugged the Republican approach to health care reform without taking a stand on whether the entire Affordable Care Act should stand.
“Most Democrats are pushing a one-size-fits-all government-run health care system fueled by higher taxes,” he said. “Republicans are focused on protecting people with pre-existing conditions and lowering the cost of care. We continue working to reduce the cost of prescriptions and expand affordable health care choices.”