Jun 18, 2021 - Health

The Obamacare wars end in a whimper

Illustration of the star of life symbol with a gavel.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Existential threats to the Affordable Care Act just aren’t what they used to be.

The big picture: The anti-Obamacare fire on the right may not be fully extinguished — it still throws off some smoke and a few sparks every once in a while — but it has petered out into irrelevance, dismissed as a distraction even by some of the same conservatives who helped to stoke it in the first place.

Driving the news: The GOP lawsuit that the Supreme Court tossed aside yesterday sought to overturn the entire health care law. It won in the lower courts. And it arrived at a Supreme Court that’s more conservative than it’s been in years.

  • Technically, the stakes were just as high as they’ve been in the past, but this ruling didn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and hardly anyone had taken seriously the prospect that court might actually overturn or even seriously weaken the law.
  • Health insurers, for example, increased their offerings in the ACA’s insurance markets while this suit was pending — not a move you'd make if you were too concerned that those markets were about to vanish, or even destabilize.

Each new attack on the ACA — both in Congress and in the courts — has been a little less potent than the one before.

  • This was the court’s third big ruling on the fate of the ACA.
  • The first one, in 2012, was a high-drama, life-or-death referendum on a sitting president’s signature achievement. The ACA survived, 5-4. The second one, a challenge to the law’s subsidies, was seen as somewhat more of a reach, but still plausible. The ACA survived, 6-3. And yesterday’s ruling was 7-2.
  • And despite conservatives' the fury at the court’s earlier rulings on the ACA, Senate Republicans had treated a loss in the latest case as a foregone conclusion for months.

Between the lines: Everybody has simply moved on. The law clearly isn’t going anywhere.

  • Democrats have shifted the health care debate toward bigger, more direct forms of government coverage, and Republicans — still without much of a platform of their own — have in turn channeled their energy into attacking Medicare for All, rather than the ACA.

The bottom line: The politics of the ACA seemed to have died down even before this lawsuit was filed. So while we may still see the occasional volley slung in Obamacare's direction, this war is over. We all know who’s won.

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