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Federal Judge In Fort Worth Hears Latest Challenge To The Affordable Care Act


Today a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, heard the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The plaintiffs are a group of 18 Republican state attorneys general and two Republican governors. They're seeking a permanent injunction, stopping enforcement of the ACA. They argue that when Congress passed its recent tax bill, they rendered the ACA unconstitutional. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Plaintiffs in this case were led by Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton. The group argued that when Congress zeroed out the tax penalty for the individual mandate - that's the part of the law that requires people to buy health insurance - the whole law was invalidated. Stacey Pogue with the Center for Public Policy Priorities has been following this bill. She says there are a lot of problems with this argument. The first, Pogue says, is that the individual mandate wasn't actually eliminated. The tax penalty that enforced it was.

STACEY POGUE: And so I think there's lots of legal minds that believe that had Congress wanted to do something differently, they would have. But what they chose to do was leave the individual mandate intact, and then put the penalty amount at zero.

LOPEZ: And this was an argument made by California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, for the coalition defending the ACA. Robert Henneke, a lawyer on the plaintiffs' legal team, says he thinks that argument fell apart in court today. He argues that Congress could only deal with taxes the last time they took it up in 2017.

ROBERT HENNEKE: The only action that was taken by Congress in 2017 - the only action that was permitted under the reconciliation process was to address tax rates.

LOPEZ: But Henneke says this part of the case wasn't the biggest concern for the court. He says the judge had more questions about whether if one part of the law is found to be unconstitutional, that means the whole law is unconstitutional. And Henneke says the judge had questions about what happens if he does strike down the law.

HENNEKE: If the court were to reach that unconstitutional question and determine which aspects of the statute to strike down, how would he do the next step?

LOPEZ: Next steps, as in what should be the timeline or procedure for blocking the law, or even parts of the law, and how that would work. Of course that's if the judge decides the Affordable Care Act is no longer constitutional. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.