An appeals court was to hear arguments Tuesday on whether Congress effectively invalidated former President Obama's entire signature healthcare law when it zeroed out the tax imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance. It is unclear when the three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in a case that appears destined for the Supreme Court, which has already reviewed the law twice. Should it do so for a third time, Politico reports it would likely be the final word on ObamaCare, and come before the 2020 election. The New York Times calls it a "case with enormous stakes": The ultimate outcome will affect protections for people with pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansions covering roughly 12 million people, and subsidies that help about 10 million others afford insurance. What you need to know, per the AP:
- Tuesday's arguments are the latest in a lawsuit filed by Republican officials in 18 states, led by the Texas Attorney General's Office. The lawsuit was filed after Congress reduced to zero the unpopular tax imposed on those without insurance.
- With no tax penalty now in effect, the Texas lawsuit argues, the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law must fall without it. Texas-based US District Judge Reed O'Connor agreed in a December ruling. The law's supporters appealed.
- The Trump administration is not defending the law and has filed arguments in favor of O'Connor's ruling.
- California's attorney general represents a coalition of mostly Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia seeking to overturn O'Connor's ruling and uphold the law. The House of Representatives has joined them.
- Among the arguments by the law's supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren't harmed by a penalty that doesn't exist; the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, but the tax's legal structure still exists; and, even if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that does not affect the rest of the law known as the Affordable Care Act.
- When the law was proposed, the tax was seen as essential to persuade healthy people to get insured, thereby keeping premiums in check. But this year—the first time no fines will be collected—signups slipped only slightly. The government said in March that 11.4 million people signed up during open enrollment season, a dip of about 300,000 from last year.
- Scheduled to hear Tuesday's arguments were 5th Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Jennifer Walker Elrod, and Kurt Engelhardt. King was nominated to the appeals court by President Carter in 1979. Elrod was nominated by President Bush in 2007. Engelhardt was nominated by President Trump last year.
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