This third decision on the health care law could mark the end of the Republican campaign to repeal it. The Supreme Court ruling provides Democrats with a springboard to expand the system.
It was a slap in the face for Republicans. On Thursday, June 17, in a decision taken by a majority of seven out of nine justices, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to strike down the Affordable Care Act, the health care law nicknamed “Obamacare,” signed by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010.
Two of the three Republican justices appointed by Donald Trump to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority. Neil Gorsuch disagreed and signed the dissenting opinion in which Republican Justice Samuel Alito explained the reason for his disagreement.
A Legislative Rather than Judicial Route
The battle over Obamacare has long polarized the political landscape, but the Supreme Court’s ruling could mark the end of an 11-year Republican campaign to repeal the law. The tea party movement seized on the issue in 2010 and Trump made it one of his campaign themes in 2016. After a decade of votes, political campaigns and legal recourse, some Republicans admit that their quest to rescind the entire law is probably at a dead end.
In Congress, elected Republican officials now suggest using the legislative route with the goal of modifying the existing law to be more restrictive. Party leaders in the House of Representatives maintain that this decision “does not change the fact that Obamacare failed to meet its promises.” The law “is hurting hard-working American families.” However, repeal is no longer a party objective or a rallying theme for voters. No elected official even spoke the word “Obamacare” on the 2020 Republican National Convention stage.
For their part, Joe Biden and elected Democrats have moved from defending the 2010 law to expanding its benefits. The Supreme Court decision could provide them with a springboard to complete the measure, notably by proposing to lower the eligibility age for Medicare (the health insurance system administered by the federal government for the benefit of people over age 65 or meeting certain other criteria), as well as the creation of a public alternative to private health plans that would be offered under Obamacare.
Health Coverage for 31 Million Americans
In its original form, Obamacare required all Americans, even those in good health, to purchase insurance or face financial penalties and required companies to insure all potential customers, regardless of their medical condition. This reform provided health coverage to 31 million Americans who had not previously had it, but Republicans have always viewed the insurance requirement as an abuse of government power.
Their first appeal was therefore against this “individual mandate.” The Supreme Court had validated it in 2012, ruling that the financial penalties could be considered taxes and justified federal intervention. When he arrived at the White House, Trump tried to repeal the law in Congress but suffered a terrible setback when Republican Senator John McCain blocked the attempt. Republican elected officials nevertheless managed to amend it in 2017 and reduced fines for lack of insurance to zero.
A Procedural Argument
Several Republican states had then introduced new legal remedies, arguing that the law no longer held. In December 2018, a Texas federal judge ruled in their favor; he decided that since “the keystone” of the building had fallen, the entire law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court overturned this decision.
This decision, the third to be pronounced on this law since its adoption in 2010, is based on a procedural argument: According to the Supreme Court, Texas and the other Republican states who brought the appeal were not justified in doing so.