Hours before the end of annual enrollment in the federal health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a Texas district court judge ruled that the ACA is unconstitutional because the ACA’s individual mandate was eliminated. (The individual mandate is reduced to zero on January 1, 2019.) In Texas vs. United States, Judge Reed C. O’Connor struck down the law, siding with a group of 18 Republican state attorneys general and two GOP governors that the tax bill passed by Congress last December effectively rendered the entire ACA unconstitutional. Judge O’Connor ruled that, because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012 as a constitutional use of its taxing power, the elimination of the individual mandate (the tax referenced in the Supreme Court’s decision) makes the rest of the law unconstitutional.
This decision does not mean that individuals will immediately lose their coverage under the ACA healthcare exchanges. No injunction was issued and the case itself will likely end up in the Supreme Court, the third time the Supreme Court will decide a constitutional question related to the ACA.
For now, individuals covered in the health care exchanges do not need to take any actions. Applicable large employers also need to continue to provide affordable minimum essential coverage to their full-time employees as required by the ACA. Expect both Democrats and Republicans to weigh in on this latest skirmish regarding the ACA.