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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.

Go deeper

Jun 17, 2021 - Health

Supreme Court rejects Republican challenge to Affordable Care Act

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Supreme Court Thursday morning tossed aside conservatives' latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, rejecting the Trump administration’s bid to get the entire health care law thrown out.

Why it matters: The 7-2 ruling will allow the ACA, which covers some 20 million people and has been the law of the land for 11 years, to continue operating. It also shows there are some limits to how much of the Republican agenda can be accomplished through the courts, even with a solid conservative majority.

Health care ruling saves Republicans from themselves

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Supreme Court saved the health care system from imploding Thursday by dismissing a Republican challenge to the Affordable Care Act. But it also saved the GOP itself from another round of intraparty chaos.

Why it matters: Most GOP lawmakers privately admit (and some will even say publicly) they don't want to deal with health care again. The issue generally isn't a good one for them with voters — as they learned the hard way after they failed to repeal the ACA in 2017.

Biden, Obama celebrate ACA ruling

President Biden seen during the US - Russia Summit 2021. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

President Biden called Thursday's decision by the Supreme Court to throw out a Republican challenge to the Affordable Care Act a "major victory for all Americans benefitting from this groundbreaking and life-changing law."

Why it matters: The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 7-2 to toss the lawsuit and allows former President Obama's signature achievement to remain intact.