Supreme Court unlikely to hear GOP case to kill ACA before 2020 election

Dive Brief:

  • The Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments in the Republican-led case seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act during the month of October, making it unlikely to be heard before the 2020 presidential election. The high court’s October schedule out Monday did not include the case that will ultimately decide the fate of the landmark health law.
  • That leaves just one full day for the case to be heard before election day on Nov. 3. though it could be heard on election day. Still, it’s more likely to be heard after given there are more scheduled argument days following the election. The term kicks off in October.
  • This means it is possible a new president could be in place before the Supreme Court hears the highly anticipated case, which President Donald Trump’s Justice Department has declined to defend.

Dive Insight:

All eyes are on the Supreme Court as it readies to hear the case that will decide whether the ACA is constitutional and can continue as the law of the land. If the justices find President Obama’s landmark law is unconstitutional, millions could lose access to health insurance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While impossible to read the minds of the justices in their scheduling decisions, Abbe Gluck, a law professor and founding faculty director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale, said waiting until after the election may have been intentional.

“It is possible the Court is trying to account for the possibility that the DOJ’s highly unusual refusal to defend the law could change depending on the election result, in which case it might make sense to wait and see what position the litigating parties take,” Gluck told Healthcare Dive.

However, other legal experts said the timing may have more to do with the court’s packed schedule for the upcoming term due to the pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s odd that Texas is not scheduled for October — given all the cases that the Court pushed from this term to next term, it makes sense that they’d fill the calendar with those hearings first,” Katie Keith, a lawyer and health policy expert at Georgetown University, told Healthcare Dive.

Still, there is a possibility the court could hear the case before, or even on the day of the election. But either way, a final ruling in the case won’t come until 2021, either in the spring or summer, Keith said.

The lawsuit to strike down the ACA was brought by a group of primarily red states led by Texas. The central argument centers on whether the law is invalid because it no longer carries the financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance coverage. Republicans in Congress changed the penalty to zero, and because of that, the courts have said the mandate can no longer be considered a tax and therefore the law is unconstitutional.

The key legal question is whether the law can stand without the mandate, or whether the remainder of the law can be severed from it.

Lower courts have ruled that the law is unconstitutional, but the appeals court did not weigh in on whether the rest of the law could be severed from the mandate. It kicked that question back to a lower court.

A group of blue states led by California is defending the law in court after the Trump administration declined to defend it.

Posted in Law