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Fort Worth judge rules Obamacare unconstitutional, casts doubt on insurance for millions

Protesters rally against Ken Paxton’s challenge to Obamacare

Protesters gathered at Burnett Plaza in downtown Fort Worth Wednesday to demonstrate against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against Obamacare, which was scheduled to be heard in a federal courtroom across the street.
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Protesters gathered at Burnett Plaza in downtown Fort Worth Wednesday to demonstrate against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against Obamacare, which was scheduled to be heard in a federal courtroom across the street.

A federal Fort Worth judge filed a decision in a national Obamacare ruling on Friday, casting doubt on coverage for millions of Americans.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a lawsuit against the act, by declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

The attorney for the suit, Robert Henneke, said the ACA is no longer legal because Congress deleted the individual mandate in the GOP’s tax bill last year.

“The court recognized that the individual mandate penalty is unconstitutional, found that the entirety of the act could not be separated from the individual mandate penalty, and as a result, entered a judgment that the entirety of the Affordable Care Act is invalid,” Henneke said in an interview with the Star-Telegram on Friday.

Twenty states, including Texas, backed the lawsuit, which asked the judge to call for a cease and desist to Obamacare enforcement.

In the decision, O’Connor denied the proposed injunction but agreed with Paxton and the plaintiffs that the act is unconstitutional.

According to the judgment, the unconstitutionality of the provision makes the rest of the ACA invalid and unenforceable. The judgment could affect insurance coverage for millions of Americans, just before the end of a six-week open enrollment period for the program in 2019.

The case is the most high-profile legal challenge to “Obamacare” under President Donald Trump. On Sept. 5, the case went before O’Connor, spurring local protests at Burnett Park to demonstrate against Paxton’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

At the time, O’Connor made no immediate ruling following a four-hour hearing.

Ending the act would eliminate current protections for those with pre-existing conditions, such as pregnancy, arthritis and diabetes.

In Texas alone, there are more than 4.5 million “nonelderly adults” with pre-existing conditions that could make it hard for them to get health insurance if Obamacare went away, statistics show.

Impact and reaction

On Friday, Henneke said the judge made the right decision, although the judgment will almost certainly be appealed.

“While there’s a judgment entered, it’s not a final judgment while the litigation remains ongoing, but it was the right outcome,” Henneke said. “And really what we need to do is not look backwards at the last eight years of partisan fighting, but we need to look forward on restoring integrity in the healthcare system.”

If appealed, the decision would still need to go through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The New York Times reported a spokeswoman for Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, said California and the other defendant states would challenge the ruling with an appeal in the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

“Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA for healthcare, and on America’s faithful progress toward affordable healthcare for all Americans,” Becerra said in a statement. “The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court. Today’s misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and well being of all Americans.”

Trump tweeted his response to the judgment.

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

Paxton applauded the decision in a statement Friday night.

“Today’s ruling enjoining Obamacare halts an unconstitutional exertion of federal power over the American health care system while our multistate coalition lawsuit works its way through the courts,” Paxton said in the statement. “Our lawsuit seeks to effectively repeal Obamacare, which will give President Trump and Congress the opportunity to replace the failed social experiment with a plan that ensures Texans and all Americans will again have greater choice about what health coverage they need and who will be their doctor.”

In the statement, Paxton said Obamacare imposes rising costs and “transfers an enormous amount of regulatory power to the federal government.”

Paxton says Trump’s tax plan last year made the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional because it did away with the tax penalty levied on those who didn’t have insurance.

“The Supreme Court held Obamacare was only tethered to the Constitution by a very thin thread — the fact that the individual penalty raised some revenue,” Paxton said in a prior statement. “Congress severed that thin thread with the tax act of 2017, and all of Obamacare must fall.”

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.


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