Obamacare supporters to appeal striking down of landmark health law

Federal judge’s ruling could deprive 17 million Americans of healthcare coverage

Obamacare deadline: early signs are that the number of people signing up through the open-enrolment process is down this year. Photograph: Patrick Sison/AP Photo

Obamacare deadline: early signs are that the number of people signing up through the open-enrolment process is down this year. Photograph: Patrick Sison/AP Photo

 

Backers of the Affordable Care Act said they would appeal a ruling by a federal court in Texas that the landmark Obama-era healthcare law, which has expanded healthcare access to millions more Americans, was unconstitutional.

A US district judge, Reed O’Connor, deemed the entire Act invalid on Friday because of the move, in 2017, by the United States Congress to repeal the tax penalty that helped enforce the legislation’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance. His ruling could deprive about 17 million people of healthcare coverage.

“Our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans,” said Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, who is leading a coalition of states defending the Act.

The ruling could ultimately end up at the United States supreme court, which upheld Obamacare in 2012 and 2015.

Mr Trump welcomed the judge’s decision on Twitter.

“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!” he said, referring to the majority leader in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell, and the presumed incoming speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. He then tweeted: “Great news for America!”

“Scary stuff for millions”

But the jubilance did not extend to congressional Republicans, who gave a more tepid response to the news. Healthcare emerged as a key issue during the midterm elections. Democrats vowed to protect people with pre-existing conditions, prompting many Republicans to offer similar assurances. Coverage for those people would be wiped out if the Texas ruling stands.

Claire McCaskill, the outgoing Democratic senator from Missouri, who lost her seat to her Republican rival Josh Hawley, slammed her opponent for making promises to protect Obamacare during the campaign despite having added Missouri to the lawsuit that led to the Texas ruling while he was state attorney general. Republicans “promised repeal and replace.They didn’t,” she tweeted. “Scary stuff for millions.”

The ruling once again puts healthcare front and centre of the incoming congress, with Democrats vowing to intervene both in the courts and in the Capitol. On Sunday morning the senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said the first thing Democrats will do in January is “put a vote on the floor urging an intervention in the case… We believe this should be overturned. It’s an awful, awful decision.”

Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. It proved deeply unpopular with many, particularly as it was accompanied by a shambolic roll-out, but in recent years it has gained support, playing a key role in ensuring Democrats’ victory in the midterm elections, given Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace the law when they had control of both houses of Congress.

The Texas ruling was delivered on the eve of the December 15th deadline for Americans to sign up for healthcare coverage for the following year. Early signs are that the number of people signing up through the open-enrolment process is down this year.

Lawmakers will meanwhile return to the US Congress this week for the final session of the year with the possibility of a government shutdown on Friday looming large if various spending bills are not agreed.