U.S. Supreme Court, Dec. 2, 2019. Credit: Robin Bravender
In oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, at least two justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — appeared optimistic regarding the survival of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) signed by former President Barack Obama in 2010.
“This is a very straightforward case…meaning that we would excise the mandate (to have health insurance) and leave the rest of the act in place,” Kavanaugh said.
Those two conservative justices, plus the other liberal justices on the high court, could mean Obamacare will survive after several legal challenges.
That would make hundreds of thousands of Floridians happy, because they need and depend on health care. In Florida, nearly 2 million residents could lose their health coverage if the ACA is dismantled, according to the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation.
The high court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the case called California vs. Texas, where GOP plaintiffs challenged the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality and the individual mandate provision that makes it necessary for Americans to have health insurance.
Florida joined the lawsuit against Obamacare in 2018 under former Attorney General Pam Bondi. When Bondi left, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody continued involvement in the case, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida was one of the GOP plaintiffs who signed on to the lawsuit, hoping to dismantle Obamacare.
Michael Mongan, solicitor general of California, defended the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, emphasizing that even if the individual mandate requiring Americans to obtain health insurance is considered unconstitutional, the entire health care law should not be repealed.
The federal tax penalty for those not obtaining health coverage was removed by Congress, therefore, the entire law should not fall if only one provision is deemed unconstitutional, Mongan argued.
“We know the rest of the act should remain in effect,” he said.
Mongan also underscored the broad benefit of the ACA including providing “health insurance and other lifesaving benefits and protections to hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Chief Justice Roberts asked Mongan whether an individual who chooses not to buy health insurance is violating the law.
“Not on our view…We think that this is an inoperative provision and there’s no legal command,” Mongan said.
Kyle Hawkins, the Solicitor General of Texas, argued that the individual mandate attached to Obamacare is “unconstitutional,” which exceeded Congress’ power to tax.
Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett — just recently installed on the bench — and other justices presented questions and hypotheticals about whether the plaintiffs and other Republican-led states can prove legal “injury” to allow them to challenge to the law.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden delivered remarks following the oral arguments, saying his administration plans to build on the ACA and “twice already the Supreme Court has upheld the landmark law in 2012 and again in 2015.”
“This doesn’t need to be a partisan issue. It’s a human issue that affects every single American family,” he said.
“Regardless of the outcome of this case, I promise you this: Beginning on Jan. 20…we’re going to do everything in our power to ease the burden of health care on you and your families. I promise you that.”
Biden pointed to a recent survey that found most Americans want to keep the ACA law that has helped many obtain affordable health coverage. “It’s the law that saved lives,” he said.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spoke before Biden and warned that “getting rid of the ACA will take us backward to a time when people could charge a woman more for her health care than they could charge a man.”
“It will take away free birth control and contraceptive coverage for women,” she added.
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