U.S. appeals court sidesteps major Obamacare ruling


FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday that a component of the Obamacare law is unconstitutional, but stopped short of declaring that the rest of the landmark 2010 healthcare statute must also be struck down.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a 2-1 vote that the law’s individual mandate that directed Americans to obtain health insurance – a provision already gutted by Republican-backed legislation passed in Congress – was unlawful.

The court, however, avoided answering the key question of whether the rest of the law can remain in place or must be struck down, instead sending the case back to a district court judge for further analysis. That means the fate of the signature domestic achievement of Democratic President Barack Obama remains in limbo.

Writing for the majority, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod said that “additional analysis” of other provisions of the law is required before the courts can determine if the entire law must be struck down.

The dissenting judge, Carolyn Dineen King, said she would have found that the challengers had no legal standing to bring the lawsuit. She also said the rest of the law could be upheld even if the individual mandate was unconstitutional.

The law has drawn Republican ire since its passage. Congressional Republicans tried and failed numerous times to repeal it, and the Trump administration has taken several actions to undermine it.

Obamacare has helped roughly 20 million Americans obtain medical insurance either through government programs or through policies from private insurers made available in Obamacare marketplaces. Republican opponents have called the law an unwarranted intervention by government in health insurance markets.

The current legal challenge was brought by 18 Republican-led states and backed by Trump’s administration, which declined to defend the law in court.

A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general led by California’s Xavier Becerra stepped into the void to defend the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. House of Representatives intervened after Democrats won control in the 2018 elections.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler

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