Is Obamacare going to be repealed? Probably not, experts say

While a Texas judge has struck down the Affordable Care Act, there isn't too much reason to worry right now

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 16, 2018 11:00AM (EST)

 (Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)
(Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

Experts seem to agree that the Friday ruling by a Texas judge overturning the Affordable Care Act is unlikely to impact the long-term future of the law — or the fates of the millions of Americans who have benefited from Obamacare.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, former President Barack Obama wrote that “you might have heard about a federal court decision on a Republican lawsuit trying to strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. That can be a scary thing to hear, particularly if you or someone you care about has a pre-existing condition. And that’s why it’s so important for you to know that last night’s ruling changes nothing for now. As this decision makes its way through the courts, which will take months, if not years, the law remains in place and will likely stay that way. Open enrollment is proceeding as planned today. And a good way to show that you’re tired of people trying to take away your health care is to go get covered!”

President Donald Trump, by contrast, gloated on Twitter about the court ruling overturning the law.

“Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!” Trump tweeted on Friday.

Yet Trump's expressions of delight may be premature. Cristian Farias of The New York Times editorial board laid out the reasons why by providing some background on the judge who ruled on this case.

Don't panic. The ruling, issued late on Friday and only one day before the end of the law’s annual open enrollment period, is not a model of constitutional or statutory analysis. It’s instead a predictable exercise in motivated reasoning — drafted by a jurist with a history of ruling against policies and laws advanced by President Barack Obama.

The reason the judge, Reed O’Connor, gets these cases isn’t a mystery: Texas and its allied states know the game and shop these lawsuits right into Judge O’Connor’s courtroom.

Max Nisen of Bloomberg expressed a similar point, noting that the Obamacare ruling had all the trappings of a political maneuver rather than a legitimate and standing legal decision.

While the ruling sounds dire and could theoretically leave millions of Americans without health insurance, it probably won’t. It’s generous to call the GOP’s legal argument in this case soft, and the win is mostly attributable to a hand-picked conservative judge. The ruling will be appealed, and will likely be overturned. In the meantime, the insurance exchanges through which individuals can obtain coverage under Obamacare seem set to remain open for business.

A major factor working against Republican efforts to repeal the law is that the argument about its invalidity, which revolves around the bill's use of an individual mandate, was already determined to not hold water by the Supreme Court. The five judges who comprised the majority in that case are still on the bench, and none have given any indication that they have changed their mind.

There are also concerns among Republicans that repealing Obamacare could prove to be politically harmful to the party, according to the Associated Press. Gail Wilensky, an economist who worked for President George H. W. Bush, told the AP that the attorneys general who filed the lawsuit weren't thinking about how their actions could impact the political fortunes of Republicans in more vulnerable states.

"The fact that they could cause their fellow Republicans harm did not seem to bother them," Wilensky said. "The people who raised it are a bunch of guys who don’t have serious election issues, mostly from states where saber-rattling against the ACA is fine. How many elections do you have to get battered before you find another issue?"

If Obamacare was overturned, the impact would be devastating for millions of Americans. In addition to making it possible for millions of people to get health care through Medicaid expansion or exchanges, the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from turning away or charging more to individuals with pre-existing conditions, helps senior citizens save money on insurance and prescription drug costs, allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they are 26 and makes it possible for many Americans to receive cholesterol tests, mammograms, birth control and other vital medical services for free, according to CNN.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Affordable Care Act All Salon Barack Obama Donald Trump News & Politics Obamacare Reed O'connor