The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request for an expedited review of a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that the legal questions over the landmark healthcare law's constitutionality will loom large during 2020 presidential election.
A coalition of Democratic attorneys general and the U.S. House of Representatives had asked the Supreme Court for a speedy review of a lower court decision that struck down the individual mandate and invalidated the ACA.
They had hoped the high court would rule on the case, Texas v. U.S., before the November election, fearing that prolonging the litigation would protect the Trump administration from the consequences of a decision that dismantled the ACA. The Trump administration supports the position of a group of Republican states seeking to invalidate the law, including popular provisions that protect people with pre-existing health conditions.
The Supreme Court's refusal to take up the case on an expedited schedule means that it won't hear the case during its current term that ends in June. However, the court could still agree to hear the case in the fall.
The order comes after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 18 affirmed a federal judge's ruling that the mandate requiring most people to purchase insurance is unconstitutional. The 5th Circuit remanded the case back to the lower court to determine what other provisions of the healthcare law must fall with it. One of the appellate judges dissented from the decision.
Democratic states defending the law pressed for a quick review, arguing that uncertainty surrounding the future of the ACA would cause problems for individuals, families, state governments and healthcare markets. Hospital and insurer trade groups supported their request.
"By declining to take up this case in an expedited manner, the Supreme Court leaves in place the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the Affordable Care Act. That uncertainty has already spread across the healthcare system," said Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, which represents safety-net health plans. "Plans will postpone investment and innovation in the individual market, dampening competition. Consumers will be left to wonder about the fate of important consumer protections against discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions, lifetime coverage caps and rescissions of coverage."
The Trump administration and the Republican state coalition argued the request was "premature" as certain issues had not yet been hashed out in the lower court. In an interview this month, Robert Henneke, the attorney representing the individual plaintiffs in the case, argued the blue states' request for an expedited review may have had more to do with politics than the merits of the case.
Twenty Republican-led states, along with individual plaintiffs, sued in February 2018 to abolish the ACA. They argued that the individual mandate is unconstitutional because the 2017 Congress zeroed out the penalty associated with not having insurance, and as a result, the rest of the Affordable Care Act must fall with it.