UPDATE: Jan. 7, 2019: The Supreme Court on Monday set a Friday afternoon deadline for challengers of the ACA to respond to the blue state coalition’s motion to expedite the case.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a coalition of 19 other states and D.C. on Friday asked the Supreme Court to hear the case seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act, following an appeals court ruling that a key element of the law is unconstitutional.
The ruling warrants an immediate and expedited review, the group said in its petition filed to the Supreme Court. The coalition laid out an aggressive timeline, in an effort to get an answer on the case before the November 2020 presidential election.
Although the court is made of nine justices, five of whom lean conservative, just four justices are needed to agree to hear the case. However, five are needed to approve the expedited timeline, according to University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley.
The landmark Affordable Care Act drastically altered the healthcare industry and ushered in insurance coverage for millions of Americans. Its provisions regulate a substantial portion of the nation’s economy and any further delay in a final outcome stokes uncertainty, the petition argues.
“States, health insurers, and millions of Americans rely on those provisions when making important — indeed, life-changing — decisions. The remand proceedings contemplated by the panel majority would only prolong and exacerbate the uncertainty already caused by this litigation,” the petition states.
Rob Henneke, the attorney representing the two individual plaintiffs in this case, said the push for a Supreme Court review this fast is unreasonable and unrealistic. “This is more influenced by the political calendar now that we are in 2020 than a valid litigation strategy,” he told Healthcare Dive.
The closely-watched case has fueled jitters in healthcare markets as the litigation has made its way through the courts.
A federal appeals court recently affirmed part of a lower court’s ruling that found the individual mandate is unconstitutional because it no longer has a financial penalty attached. The lower court went one step further and found that because the mandate is unconstitutional, so too is the entire law. The Texas-led coalition of Republican states seeking to overturn the law has argued that when Congress zeroed out the financial penalty associated with forgoing insurance, it invalidated the entire law.
This group of red states and two individual plaintiffs argue that the law cannot stand on its own without the individual mandate and that the entirety of the law must be struck down. That mandate’s financial penalty was nixed in a subsequent tax bill.
“The individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be read as a tax,” the majority wrote in the federal appeals court ruling. But on the key question of whether the rest of the law can stand, the majority sent that back to the lower court to provide more detailed analysis on what can stay or go.
The blue states intervened to defend the ACA after the Trump administration’s DOJ waffled on its position and is not actively defending to uphold the law throughout the country.