Congress

Supreme Court denies request for expedited appeal of challenge to 2010 health care law

House and several blue states had requested appeal that could have led to decision ahead of election

An expedited hearing on the 2010 health care law could have led to a ruling before the election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will not hear an expedited appeal of a legal challenge to the 2010 health care law this term, which could have led to a decision this summer on whether to overturn the entire law during the heat of the campaign season.

At least five justices declined a request from several Democratic state officials and the House to fast-track an appeal of the case, Texas v. Azar. Instead, a lower court judge will reconsider how much of the 2010 health care law should fall after Congress eliminated the law's tax penalty on most Americans who did not have health care coverage. The Supreme Court could agree to hear the case as soon as its next term, which begins in October, but a decision is not likely before the November elections.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that the law's requirement to get insurance coverage, known as the individual mandate, could not stand without bringing in revenue from the tax penalty on people did not get coverage. But the three-judge panel remanded questions about the rest of the law back to a district court judge, who ruled that the entire law should fall. The argument by conservative state officials who brought the lawsuit was that the tax penalty was such an integral part of the law that other components could not operate without it.

A coalition of Republican state attorneys general and the Department of Justice had urged the justices to deny the request for expedited consideration.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hold off on hearing the case as it works its way through the courts could lessen the lawsuit’s political potency ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Polls show that health care is a top issue for voters.

President Donald Trump has said he supports protections for pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular parts of the health law. But his administration has taken steps to weaken those protections, in addition to supporting the lawsuit that calls for the entire law to fall.

House Democrats campaigned in 2018 on their support for those protections, which guarantee that people cannot be denied or charged more for health insurance because of a prior illness. The health care debate in the Democratic presidential primary has so far focused on the differences between establishing a single-payer plan or a public option, but all of the Democratic candidates support a continuation of the pre-existing condition protections and the rest of the 2010 law.

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