Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Obama era health law

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita. 

The Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge to the Obama era health care law, preserving insurance coverage for millions of Americans.

The justices, by a 7-2 vote, left the entire law intact Thursday in ruling that Texas, other Republican-led states and two individuals had no right to bring their lawsuit in federal court. The Biden administration says 31 million people have health insurance because of the law popularly known as “Obamacare.”

The law’s major provisions include protections for people with preexisting health conditions, a range of no-cost preventive services and the expansion of the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people, including those who work in jobs that don’t pay much or provide health insurance.

Also left in place is the law’s now-toothless requirement that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress rendered that provision irrelevant in 2017 when it reduced the penalty to zero.

The elimination of the penalty had become the hook that Texas and other Republican-led states, including Indiana, as well as the Trump administration, used to attack the entire law. They argued that without the mandate, a pillar of the law when it was passed in 2010, the rest of the law should fall, too.

And with a more conservative Supreme Court that includes three Trump appointees, opponents of Obamacare hoped a majority of the justices would finally kill off the law they have been fighting against for more than a decade.

But the third major attack on the law at the Supreme Court ended the way the first two did, with a majority of the court rebuffing efforts to gut the law or get rid of it altogether.

Trump’s three appointees to the Supreme Court — Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — split their votes. Kavanaugh and Barrett joined the majority. Gorsuch was in dissent, signing on to an opinion from Justice Samuel Alito.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that the states and people who filed a federal lawsuit “have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.”

In dissent, Alito wrote, “Today’s decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue.” Alito was a dissenter in the two earlier cases, as well.

Indiana under former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill joined the Texas challenge to the health care law. Todd Rokita, who voted against the Affordable Care Act numerous times during his tenure in Congress, continued the state participation in the lawsuit when he became attorney general in January 2021.

In a statement to Indiana Lawyer, Rokita said, “Once again, the Supreme Court has declined to weigh in on the merits of this insidious government takeover of our healthcare, otherwise known as Obamacare, which has drastically driven up cost by squelching competition and choice. We’ll continue to push back against this unconstitutional law.”

However, the Indiana Democratic Party hailed the decision.

“For over a decade, (Gov.) Eric Holcomb, Todd Rokita, (Sen.) Todd Young, and the entire Indiana Republican Party built a manufactured crusade with the sole purpose of preventing millions of Hoosiers from receiving quality and affordable healthcare coverage,” Mike Schmuhl, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Many of the elected Republicans in office today — like U.S. Senator Todd Young — used the Affordable Care Act as a scare tactic in and out of election years. Luckily, this crusade ends today as the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed once again that the Affordable Care Act will be a law for generations to come.”

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