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March 2, 2020

SCOTUS will hear another case seeking to toss the ACA

Daily Briefing

    The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), though it remains unclear when oral arguments in the case could begin.

    What would it really mean to strike down the ACA? Here are 5 of the biggest implications.

    About the lawsuit

    The lawsuit, filed in February 2018 by attorneys general (AGs) from more than a dozen Republican-led states, argues that a 2017 tax reform law rendered the ACA's individual mandate unconstitutional by zeroing out the mandate's tax penalty for remaining uninsured. That's because the Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the mandate would be unconstitutional without a tax penalty.

    The GOP AGs also argue that the ACA cannot be separated from the individual mandate because the law does not include a severability clause stating that some parts of the law may stand if other parts are struck down. Therefore, the AGs claim the entire law must be invalidated if the individual mandate is struck down as unconstitutional.

    U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in December 2018 agreed with the Republican AGs that the individual mandate is unconstitutional without the tax penalty and that the entire ACA should be struck down. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in a 2-1 ruling also agreed that the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, and therefore struck down the mandate. But the panel did not address the question of severability, and instead sent that question back to the lower court.

    Democratic AGs and the House, which are defending the ACA in the case, in January asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the lower court proceedings and immediately take up the case. They argued that the review was warranted because lower courts have ruled part of a federal law unconstitutional and created uncertainty around the law. "The uncertainty created by this litigation is especially problematic because individuals, businesses, and state and local governments make important decisions in reliance on the ACA," the state AG wrote. "Prolonged uncertainty about whether or to what extent important provisions of the ACA might be invalidated makes these choices more difficult, threatening adverse consequences for American families, health care markets, and the broader economy."

    The Supreme Court in January declined to hear the case under expedited review, but the Court at the time did not indicate whether it would take up the case at a later date.

    SCOTUS takes up the case

    The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the case, though it did not specify when oral arguments would begin.

    If the Court follows its ordinary schedule, arguments would begin this fall and the Court likely would issue a decision in the case in the spring or summer of 2021, the New York Times reports. However, it's unclear if the Court will hear oral arguments before the presidential election in November. Health care, is expected to be a hot-button issue for voters this year, this Times reports (Liptak, New York Times, 3/2; King, FierceHealthcare, 3/2)

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