Federal appeals court rules Affordable Care Act insurance mandate unconstitutional

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A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled last week that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate requiring most Americans to carry insurance is unconstitutional.

The long-awaited decision has minimal immediate impact on healthcare consumers, as Congress already removed the penalty for people who do not have insurance. However, the statute remains in limbo, and leaves several unanswered questions about insurance coverage and consumer healthcare protections, including protections for people with preexisting conditions. Additionally, officials say the decision will likely bring the healthcare law before the Supreme Court for a third time.

In February 2018, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed a lawsuit arguing that the ACA became unconstitutional when Congress adopted a broad tax bill in late 2017, eliminating the penalty for people who do not carry health insurance. The plaintiffs argued that when the Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012, the majority reasoned it was legal under Congress’s taxing powers. The two Republican-appointed judges on the 5th circuit panel agreed with the reasoning.

The bill now goes back to a lower court to determine whether the rest of the law can remain.