A federal judge's ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional is almost certain to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the health law could be in peril there.
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On Friday, Judge Reed O'Connor, of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, ruled that the act's mandate requiring people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional and that the health law's remaining provisions are invalid, The New York Times reported.
The ruling was made in a case that was launched by Republican governors and state attorneys general in 20 states and centered on whether people were still compelled to buy coverage even after Congress reduced the penalty for not having coverage to zero dollars.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the coverage mandate was constitutional because it's based on Congress's taxing power. The states that launched this case said the coverage mandate became unconstitutional when the penalty for not having coverage was reduced to zero dollars, and that the rest of the Affordable Care Act could not be separated from the mandate, the Times reported.
A Democrat-led group of 16 intervening states and the District of Columbia vowed to appeal the decision.
California and the other defendant states will challenge the ruling with an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, the Times reported.
"Today's ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA's consumer protections for health care, on America's faithful progress toward affordable health care for all Americans," a spokeswoman for Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, said in a statement.
"The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court," the spokeswoman added.
The Democrat-led coalition jumped in to defend the health care law in this case due to the inaction of the U.S. Justice Department. While the department disagreed that the entire law should be struck down, it decided against defending not only the coverage mandate, but also the law's protections for people with preexisting conditions, the Times reported.
In a statement issued Friday night, the White House said: "We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place."
About 52 million adults aged 18 to 64, or 27 percent of people in that age group, would not be eligible for coverage under practices that were in effect in most states before the Affordable Care Act, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization.
"If this Texas decision on the ACA is upheld, it would throw the individual insurance market and the whole health care system into complete chaos," Larry Levitt, a senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter, the Times reported.
"But, the case still has a long legal road to travel before that's an immediate threat," he added.
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