In an unusual Friday night announcement, a federal judge in Texas declared that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) was unconstitutional. The ruling is not final, nor does it have any immediate effect.
HealthCare.com and our partner agents are operating normally.
Individual insurance companies are operating normally.
Insurance plans for 2018 and 2019 are operating normally.
This event did not change health insurance rules for everyday Americans.
2019 ACA health insurance signups for individuals ran through December 15, the end of the Open Enrollment Period (8 states get more time). Short-term health plans are also widely available for those who want more flexibility with their coverage.
Health insurance plans have not been measurably affected yet by this ruling. In all scenarios, the law will not change for some time to come. States are already challenging the court ruling.
The most likely outcome of the case is that the law of the land remains the same.
What Did the Court Decide About the ACA?
On December 14, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor granted partial summary judgment (pdf) to states which filed an anti-ACA lawsuit. Essentially, the judge stated that Obamacare was unconstitutional. However, the judge expressly declined to issue an injunction, meaning that the decision isn’t being enforced.
This decision hasn’t changed anything about how health insurance rules work right now. The court has already scheduled additional hearings in the case to work out what the ruling means in practice. Once additional hearings are completed, the case may go to the Supreme Court.
The Washington Post reports that “Republicans and Democrats alike [predict] it could take a year or more before the true significance of Friday night’s opinion by one conservative federal judge is known. Echoing the Trump administration, they said the ruling would begin a long path through the appellate courts, probably bringing the question of the ACA’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court for a third time.”
Texas v. Azar Lawsuit History:
The controversial ACA lawsuit known as Texas v. Azar or Texas v. US was originally filed in February 2018 by 20 Republican-led states. After federal politicians failed to repeal Obamacare following a series of votes in 2017, this lawsuit became the main strategy for ACA opponents seeking to end the law.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional, in part because it was tied to the individual mandate tax. Since Congress repealed the tax without repealing the rest of the law, this new lawsuit argues that the entire law is now void.
Next Steps for the ACA:
Conservative and liberal legal experts are skeptical that the Supreme Court will agree with the decision from Judge O’Connor, as the Supreme Court has already weighed in on this issue. Most likely, the case will go to an appellate court – where there is a significant chance it may be reversed – before being eligible to move to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can also decline to take the case, which may prevent it from having any effect.
A separate, contradictory lawsuit from the Republican-led state of Maryland is taking place right now. Maryland’s lawsuit seeks to preserve Obamacare. noting that the Justice Department has stopped defending the ACA in court. If the Supreme Court does decide to hear the Texas case, it can combine the Maryland ACA case and other district court decisions into the same hearing.
Government health insurance leaders say everything is normal:
The recent federal court decision is still moving through the courts, and the exchanges are still open for business and we will continue with open enrollment. There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan.
— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) December 15, 2018
Congressional Democrats promise to join the fray:
Tonight’s absurd ruling exposes the monstrous endgame of the GOP’s all-out assault on people w/ pre-existing conditions & the ACA. When @HouseDemocrats take the gavel, the House will swiftly intervene in the appeals process to #ProtectOurCare!
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) December 15, 2018
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the ruling for “halt[ing] an unconstitutional exertion of federal power over the American healthcare system.”
BREAKING: Texas Federal judge rules Obamacare unconstitutional!!!
— Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) December 15, 2018
When insurers can’t predict future needs very well, then the prices of their plans tend to increase to cover emergencies.
The Affordable Care Act still stands.
Get a Free Health Insurance Quote
- Get an instant quote for health insurance plans
- Compare prices from over 300 carriers
- Find a plan that fits your budget