The Trump administration filed a formal request on May 1 to abolish the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”
A Texas district court judge ruled late last year that Obamacare became unconstitutional after Congress repealed the individual mandate provision of the law. The Trump administration didn’t initially support the ruling, but changed course on March 25, telling the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that the district court’s ruling “should be affirmed.”
In a 75-page court brief (pdf), the Justice Department offers an extensive defense for the district court’s decision. The department argues that Congress wouldn’t have approved Obamacare without the individual mandate, with significant portions of the legislation depending on that provision.
The individual mandate portion of Obamacare required all taxpayers who aren’t enrolled in a health insurance plan to pay a fine to the Internal Revenue Service. The Supreme Court’s decision upholding Obamacare rested entirely on an interpretation of the individual mandate as a tax. Republicans severed the monetary penalty portion of the mandate as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017.
The gutting of the mandate paved the way for the case in Texas, with District Judge Reed O’Connor from Fort Worth ruling on Dec. 14, 2018, that all of Obamacare is unconstitutional, in absence of the mandate’s power to raise revenue. With the penalty gone, the mandate no longer could be used to prop up Obamacare using Congress’s taxation powers.
“The district court ruled correctly that, in the absence of any revenue-raising provision, the individual mandate can no longer properly be upheld as a tax and is therefore unconstitutional,” the Justice Department wrote in the May 1 brief to the appellate court.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals—one of the most conservative in the nation—is expected to hear oral arguments in the case in July. The party that loses the case will then appeal to the Supreme Court.
On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised to get rid of Obamacare. In December 2018, he celebrated when the Texas court ruled that the law is unconstitutional.
“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Dec. 14, 2018.
A Republican effort to repeal Obamacare in Congress failed in 2017 when the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who campaigned on a promise to repeal the law, voted against the repeal measure.
While Obamacare allowed the government to take over a swath of the health care industry, a large number of prominent Democrats now embrace the socialist “Medicare for All” legislation, which would grant the government a monopoly over the health insurance industry. With the exception of former Vice President Joe Biden, every leading Democratic presidential candidate has embraced Medicare for All. Two-thirds of House Democrats and one-third of Senate Democrats support the legislation.
Republicans are working on a health care proposal of their own, which Trump promised to put on display before the 2020 election.