Health care hasn't been a front-burner issue for the political world in recent months, but today in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the fight over the Affordable Care Act returns to the national spotlight.
A panel of federal judges in New Orleans takes up the future of Obamacare on Tuesday, hearing from states that say it's unconstitutional and from Justice Department lawyers directed by President Donald Trump to oppose the entire law, too.
The Texas v. United States case is as multifaceted as it is important, so let's dig in with some Q&A.
It's been a few months since I've thought about this and I'm feeling a little rusty. What are we talking about again?
The U.S. Supreme Court already sided with the ACA -- twice -- but the Republican tax plan changed the policy landscape a bit. As regular readers may recall, when GOP policymakers approved their regressive tax plan, they simultaneously zeroed out the health care law's individual mandate penalty. And that, in turn, gave several far-right attorneys general an idea: they could once again file suit against "Obamacare," arguing that the penalty-free mandate is unconstitutional, and given the mandate's importance to the system, the entire law should be torn down.
That sounds like a rather desperate ploy. Is anyone actually buying this argument?
Yes. Shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor -- a Bush-appointed jurist in Texas -- agreed so enthusiastically with the Republican arguments that he struck down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. That ruling, however, didn't go into effect, and it's currently on hold as the appeals process moves forward.
I've heard for months that this case was about Republicans trying to get rid of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but it sounds like that ruling was even more sweeping.
Correct. The judge in the case could've ruled against the ACA in a narrower way, but he decided instead to take a sledgehammer to the American health care system, because he felt like it, giving Republicans even more than they expected.
Did the ruling make sense?
It did not. Even some conservative legal experts, who've been deeply critical of the ACA, have criticized the decision, with one calling it "embarrassingly bad."
So the 5th Circuit will reverse it, right?