Last week, a federal district court judge in Texas ruled that ObamaCare – in its entirety – is unconstitutional.
ObamaCare's defenders plan to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. The legal fight could drag on for years.
If the ruling is upheld, it'll be a huge victory for the millions of Americans struggling with higher health care costs thanks to ObamaCare's onerous regulations. It's time for Congress to acknowledge ObamaCare's failures and devolve authority for health policy to the states.
The seeds for Friday's ruling were planted in 2012, in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. The court ruled that Congress does not have the power, under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, to force individuals to buy health insurance or any other product against their will.
Thus, it appeared that ObamaCare's individual mandate, which requires people to purchase insurance or pay a fine, was unconstitutional.
However, five justices argued that the individual mandate was merely a tax on people who don't purchase coverage. Congress clearly has the power to levy taxes. Therefore, the justices upheld the health law overall.
Fast forward to December 2017. Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which set the penalty for violating the individual mandate at zero dollars, effectively repealing it.
Early in 2018, Texas and more than a dozen other states sued the federal government. They argued that since the individual mandate penalty no longer raised any revenue, it was no longer a tax, and thus the mandate itself is unconstitutional.
On Friday, Judge Reed O'Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas agreed, writing, "[T]he Individual Mandate, unmoored from a tax, is unconstitutional." He went on to argue that the entire law must be struck down because the individual mandate is "essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA" (the Affordable Care Act).
Judge O'Connor didn't issue an injunction, so ObamaCare will remain in effect while the appeals process plays out. But Congress needn't wait for the Supreme Court to snuff out the beleaguered health law. Lawmakers could largely end the national bickering over health care right now.
If we've learned anything from the last nine years, it's that the federal government degrades the health care system. ObamaCare has been a disaster; even progressives tacitly acknowledge its failures when they advocate for Medicare for All.
In making his initial case for the law, President Barack Obama promised that premiums for the average family would decline by $2,500. Instead, they doubled between 2013 and 2017. Republicans, meanwhile, hardly covered themselves in glory when they attempted to repeal and replace the law in 2017.
Congress is too divided to develop coherent national health policies. There's even disagreement within the two parties about the best path forward. So why not let individual states manage their own health policy?
Consider the potential of the Health Care Choices Proposal – a blueprint developed by several prominent free-market think tanks. The plan would ax ObamaCare's regulations, including the "essential health benefits" mandate, which requires all plans to cover things like substance abuse treatment, pediatric dental care, and a wide range of other expensive services that many consumers may not want or need.
The proposal would give the money the federal government currently spends on exchange subsidies and Medicaid expansion to states in the form of block grants. States could decide for themselves the best way to provide care to people with preexisting conditions. For instance, they could set up high-risk pools or reinsurance programs to subsidize coverage for the chronically ill.
Such reforms would protect vulnerable patients without driving up costs for healthy Americans. The proposal would reduce average premiums by 32 percent, according to a study from the Center for Health and Economy.
Importantly, the proposal would enable consumers to choose the coverage that fits their needs and budget. For example, single 27-year-old men who don't drink are currently forced to buy plans that cover maternity care and alcohol abuse treatment. Under the proposal, they could choose bare-bones coverage, saving thousands of dollars annually.
By rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach, the proposal could appeal to voters on both sides of the political spectrum. Conservative states could slash red tape to their hearts' content. Liberal states could impose a bevy of regulations and mandates.
The Affordable Care Act faces an uncertain future after Friday's court ruling. But one thing is clear – Americans deserve better than ObamaCare's expensive, inflexible coverage. Shifting power back to the states would give patients access to better, cheaper care.