May 16, 2018 - Health

Blue states can defend ACA in latest lawsuit, judge says

A protestor waving a pro-ACA sign outside the Supreme Court

ACA protests outside the Supreme Court in 2012. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

A group of liberal states will be allowed to defend the Affordable Care Act in court after a federal judge in Texas today granted their request for a formal role in the latest constitutional challenge to the ACA.

Why it matters: The ACA's allies would much rather have a voice of their own in the lawsuit — which challenges the ACA's individual mandate — rather than leaving the pro-ACA argument entirely in the hands of the Trump administration.

The details: The latest lawsuit, filed by Texas and a group of other red states, aims to revive the legal debate over the ACA's individual mandate — which the Supreme Court upheld in 2012.

  • The Supreme Court viewed the mandate as a tax. It said Congress can use tax penalties to discourage certain behavior (in this case, being uninsured).
  • When Congress "repealed" the individual mandate earlier this year, what it actually did was drop the penalty down to $0. Technically, the requirement to purchase insurance is still on the books — there's just no penalty for defying it.
  • Texas argues that the Supreme Court upheld the penalty, not the underlying requirement, and now the underlying requirement is all that's left.

Between the lines: In asking to join the case, blue states said they "have a strong interest in protecting their existing healthcare infrastructure and the orderly operation of their healthcare systems, which would be thrown into disarray if the ACA were ruled unconstitutional."

  • If they hadn't been allowed to intervene, the job of defending the ACA would have fallen solely to the Justice Department. And Democrats feared that defense would not have been very strong.
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