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Federal Judge In Texas Declares Obamacare Law Unconstitutional

Gabriel C. Pérez

A federal judge in Fort Worth has ruled the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, in a lawsuit filed by 18 Republican state attorneys general and two Republican governors. 


The ruling comes a day before the end of the annual open enrollment period for insurance plans on the individual marketplace. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees the federal marketplace, said in a tweet that open enrollment will not be affected by the ruling.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the lawsuit, has argued that the entire law should be struck down after Congress zeroed out the tax penalty for the individual mandate – the part of the law that requires people to buy health insurance – in 2017. 

The judge sided with the plaintiffs. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said that without the individual mandate, the rest of the health care law does not stand.

"Congress stated many times unequivocally — through enacted text signed by the President — that the Individual Mandate is 'essential' to the ACA," he wrote. "And this essentiality, the ACA’s text makes clear, means the mandate must work 'together with the other provisions' for the Act to function as intended."

The ruling does halt the ACA and, for now, nothing changes. A higher court hear an appeal and the case will more than likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court upheld the law in 2012 and 2015. 

“Our lawsuit seeks to effectively repeal Obamacare, which will give President Trump and Congress the opportunity to replace the failed social experiment with a plan that ensures Texans and all Americans will again have greater choice about what health coverage they need and who will be their doctor,” Paxton said in a statement after the ruling.

Because the Trump administration decided not to defend the health care law in court, Democratic attorneys general led by California have been defending it. 

“Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA for healthcare, and on America’s faithful progress toward affordable healthcare for all Americans,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.“The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court. Today’s misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”  

In court briefs, Paxton had argued that if the judge decides not to strike down the law in its entirety, he should eliminate Obamacare protections in just those states that are challenging it.

President Donald Trump also reacted to the ruling tonight on Twitter.

“Today’s decision is an unfortunate step backward for our health system that is contrary to overwhelming public sentiment to preserve pre-existing condition protections and other policies that have extended health insurance coverage to millions of Americans,” said American Medical Association president Barbara L. McAneny, M.D. “It will destabilize health insurance coverage by rolling back federal policy to 2009. No one wants to go back to the days of 20 percent of the population uninsured and fewer patient protections, but this decision will move us in that direction.”

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Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.