Supreme Court Won’t Expedite ACA Challenge

 

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The U.S. Supreme Court justices won't fast-track their decision on whether to review a ruling that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) individual mandate is unconstitutional.

In December 2019, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Republican state attorneys general who challenged the ACA's individual mandate, holding that the mandate is unconstitutional since there is no longer a penalty for people who fail to buy health insurance.

The U.S. House of Representatives and a group of Democrat-led states are fighting that ruling and asked the high court to prioritize its review of their petitions. "Expedited consideration of the petition for certiorari is warranted to permit this court to … end the crippling uncertainty that now pervades the health insurance and health care marketplace," the House of Representatives argued in its petition.

But on Jan. 21, the justices denied the challengers' motions to expedite consideration of the petitions and will proceed on a regular timeline.

We've rounded up the latest news on this topic from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets.

Uncertainty Remains

The 5th Circuit upheld a decision by a federal district judge in Texas deeming the individual mandate unconstitutional but sent the case back to the district judge to consider what parts of the ACA might live on. The House of Representatives and certain Democrat-led states asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the individual mandate is constitutional, despite the penalty for noncompliance being set at zero, and whether that provision would be severable from the rest of the ACA if it's found to be invalid. The Supreme Court's decision not to fast-track its review means that responses to the petitions will not be due until Feb. 3 or possibly later if there's an extension. The justices will not consider the petitions until late February or early March, which will be too late for oral arguments to be scheduled for this term if the petitions are granted. Thus, the ACA's status will remain uncertain during the 2020 election season.

(SCOTUSblog)

Controversy Continues

President Donald Trump has supported efforts to halt the ACA. "My administration continues to work to provide access to high-quality health care at a price you can afford, while strongly protecting those with pre-existing conditions," he said in a statement. Democrats stress the urgency of the Supreme Court reaching a quick resolution in the lawsuit. "Under the current state of affairs, there is considerable doubt over whether millions of individuals will continue to be able to afford vitally important care," according to documents the House filed with the high court. "If the court does not hear the case this term, that uncertainty will likely persist through next year's open enrollment period."

(The Hill)

Background

On Dec. 14, 2018, federal district judge Reed O'Connor ruled that because Congress eliminated the penalty on individuals without ACA-compliant health coverage effective in 2019, the ACA's individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance "can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress's tax power." O'Connor, who is a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, then struck down the ACA in full, concluding that the individual mandate is so connected to the law that Congress would not have passed the ACA without it. On appeal, the 5th Circuit affirmed the finding that the individual mandate was invalid. But it instructed the district court to rehear the matter and "to employ a finer-toothed comb on remand and conduct a more searching inquiry into which provisions of the ACA Congress intended to be inseverable from the individual mandate."

(SHRM Online)

Penalty Set to Zero

The ACA requires that most Americans either maintain a minimum level of health care coverage or pay a specified amount to the Internal Revenue Service. In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld this mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congress's taxing power, giving individuals a lawful choice between buying insurance or paying a tax. In 2017, and effective in 2019, Congress amended the ACA to set at zero the amount of tax imposed on those who chose not to maintain health care coverage, making the individual mandate provision unenforceable.

(SHRM Online)

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