Late Friday, December 14th, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Fort Worth ruled the “individual mandate” provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional, effectively invalidating the landmark healthcare legislation. Congress had gutted the individual mandate provision by zeroing out the penalty for not having insurance in December 2017. Subsequently, 20 states, led by Texas, filed suit against the federal government in February 2018, arguing without the penalty, the individual mandate was unconstitutional.
O’Connor’s ruling comes three months after hearing oral arguments in the suit, a little more than a month after the November 2018 general election, during which healthcare was a major campaign issue, and just one day prior to the deadline to enroll in “Obamacare” coverage for 2019.
The judge’s decision was not unexpected, given his previous rulings against provisions of the ACA and expert analysis of his questioning during oral arguments. O’Connor held that since the individual mandate is not severable from other ACA provisions, the entire law is invalid.
Friday’s decision is expected to be appealed up to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and may end up back at the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the final effects of O’Connor’s ruling are not yet known, it is possible millions of Americans could lose access to healthcare coverage, including many in Texas, which already leads the nation in the number of uninsured residents. 4.8 million Texans lack healthcare coverage, including more than 830,000 children.
In spite of the ruling, government officials say that Americans should still be able to sign up for health insurance on healthcare.gov until midnight on Saturday, December 15. Texans can also enroll in an insurance plan on healthcare.gov as the state did not set up their own exchanges.
Reform Austin will continue to follow developments in this story.