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Texas judge rules Affordable Care Act unconstitutional

By Sam Howard and Allen Cone
Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as the court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2012. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, but a decision by a federal judge in Texas this week has cast doubt on Obamacare. File Photo UPI/Kevin Dietsch | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/1387ec5f51d4c8a231fef3ae93301c5e/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as the court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2012. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, but a decision by a federal judge in Texas this week has cast doubt on Obamacare. File Photo UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled Friday that the Affordable Care Act, specifically its individual mandate requiring Americans to get health insurance, is unconstitutional.

District Court Judge Reed O'Connor's decision paves the way for an appeal, at first likely at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but then possibly to the Supreme Court, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

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O'Connor wrote that the "individual mandate is unconstitutional" and is "inseverable" from the rest of the Affordable Care Act, the sweeping 2010 healthcare law commonly called Obamacare.

He determined that because, O'Connor wrote, the individual mandate "can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress's tax power," according to The New York Times.

RELATED ACA sign-ups down 11 percent so far, figures show

Congressional Republicans essentially nulled the individual mandate last year in their tax reform legislation, setting the financial penalty for failing to acquire health insurance at zero dollars. When the Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012, justices determined the individual mandate was constitutional because it was covered under Congress' power to levy taxes.

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The 2012 decision is now irreconcilable with the individual mandate's current non-existent financial penalty, plaintiffs that include 20 states argue. And because the individual mandate is "inseverable" from the rest of the Affordable Care Act, O'Connor wrote, the law cannot exist without it. He called it the "keystone" of the law.

"Based on unambiguous text, Supreme Court guidance, and historical context, the Court finds 'it is evident that the Legislature would not have enacted' the ACA 'independently of' the Individual Mandate," O'Connor wrote.

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Other states, including California, plan to challenge O'Connor's decision in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Times reported.

President Donald Trump praised the decision Friday night on Twitter.

"As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions," he said.

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Former Pesident Barack Obama attempted to calm attempted people who fear they will lose their health insurance by saying the decision didn't immediately strike down the law and that there was a long legal battle ahead.

"As the decision makes its way through the courts, which will take months, if not years, the law remains in place and will likely stay that way," Obama posted on Twitter. "Open enrollment is proceeding as planned today. And a good way to show that you're tired of people trying to take away your health care is to go get covered!"

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Midnight Saturday is the deadline to sign up for 2019 plans via HealthCare.gov.

But Obama warned Republicans will attempt to strike down the law in Congress. "If they can't get it done in Congress, they'll keep trying in the courts, even when it puts people's pre-existing conditions coverage at risk," Obama said. "The only way to convince them to stop trying to repeal this law, and start working to make health care better, is to keep voting, in big numbers, in every election, for people who'll protect and improve our care."

The Trump administration cut advertising funding by 90 percent in 2017 and cut a key outreach program by 70 percent this summer compared with 2016.

Through Dec. 9, 4.7 million has signed up for the health insurance, including 1.4 million new consumers, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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