Affordable Care Act Survives Another SCOTUS Battle

The Supreme Court Thursday struck down a challenge from state plaintiffs, led by Texas, challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act requires “most Americans to obtain minimum essential health insurance coverage” and imposes “a monetary penalty upon most individuals” who fail to do so. In 2017, the monetary penalty was nullified for all intents and purposes when the penalty amount was set to $0. 

Upon this adjustment, Texas brought suit against federal officials over claims that without the penalty, the minimal essential coverage provision was unconstitutional. Since they consider the provision to not be severable from the rest of the act, they argued the entire act must be struck down. Initial courts determined that the plaintiffs did have standing regarding constitutionality, but also noted that the severability analysis the plaintiffs gave provided insufficient justification to strike down the entire act. Eventually, California intervened in the suit to defend the Act’s constitutionality. 

Texas and other state plaintiffs contended that the provision within the ACA has led state residents to enroll in insurance programs, causing the plaintiffs to “pay a share of the costs of serving those new enrollees.” The Supreme Court countered that this claim fails to adequately demonstrate how injury relates to the potential unlawful government conduct. They explained that “the state plaintiffs have failed to show that the challenged minimum essential coverage provision, without any prospect of penalty, will harm them by leading more individuals to enroll in these programs.”

When the case reached the Supreme Court, a majority of the nine justices asserted that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case to the court. Specifically, they said that the plaintiffs “have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.”

The seven-Justice majority consisted of Justices Roberts, Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, with the opinion written by Justice Breyer1. Justices Alito and Gorsuch filed dissenting opinions.