The New Hampshire landscape for universal health insurance under Obamacare remains in place, but a federal judge’s ruling late Friday threatens to put the entire law on life support unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to keep it alive.
The stunning decision from U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas was related to a decision by Congress in 2017 to repeal the tax penalty used to enforce the mandate to get health insurance. It was a change President Donald Trump supported.
This ruling rendered the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional because the law did not contain a severability clause that keeps remaining parts of a law in place should one section of it be judged invalid.
Trump quickly celebrated with a tweet late Friday and called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi to finish the job by replacing the ACA.
“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” Trump wrote.
“Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!” Trump wrote.
A few hours later the White House issued a statement that stressed nothing changes for now as O’Connor’s decision will be appealed.
“We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place,” the White House said.
The state’s entire congressional delegation of four Democrats condemned the decision and warned it risked ending coverage for more than 50,000 low-income adults in New Hampshire who get it under Medicaid expansion. The insurance includes coverage for substance abuse conditions.
“The recklessness of the Texas court decision to strike down the Affordable Care Act can’t be overstated, as it puts the health care of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Granite Staters in jeopardy,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said.
“The American people overwhelmingly support the Affordable Care Act, and it is disgraceful that partisans, led by the Trump administration, have yet to abandon their insidious efforts to undermine health care coverage that Americans depend on for essential care,” she said.
The Texas attorney general brought this case, backed by chief prosecutors in 17 other states. Another 18 states with Democratic prosecutors opposed this lawsuit in court. New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald, a former GOP activist, did not represent New Hampshire for either side in this matter.
The decision came as the annual enrollment period for signing up for Obamacare coverage ended on Saturday, with Sen. Maggie Hassan and colleagues urging consumers to understand they could enroll.
Greg Moore is state director of the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-financed group that opposed Obamacare.
“This should be a reminder to all legislators out there — when you are writing a complicated bill, always put a severability clause at the end,” Moore said. “Not doing so is just asking for trouble.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the decision.
But the response from New Hampshire residents revealed once again how divisive this law remains.
There were a few hundred comments on Facebook to Shaheen’s posting of her statement, and not all of them were complementary.
The Supreme Court has already rejected two challenges to Obamacare.
“The Supreme Court still has the five judges who upheld it. They will discard this decision as well,” said Paul Needham of Derry.
But Sandie Chadwick Bagley, who attended Kearsarge Regional High School in Sutton, said Shaheen’s party passed this law that’s now in flux.
“Look in the mirror Senator. You took part in the recklessness of the Democrat Congress that passed this bill which has raised havoc on the healthcare and wallets of millions of Americans,” Bagley posted.
“Don’t point the finger in another direction and claim that it is their fault. Just look in the mirror and claim responsibility for letting this monster out of the box in the first place.”
Matthew Towne of Sunapee fired back at Shaheen critics. “The ACA is health insurance. 20 million people have it. It works,” he wrote.
Matt McLibert of Concord reminded people that the ACA was adopted quickly with little debate on a strict party-line vote.
“I don’t understand how you can sit on your high horse and support not only a bad law, but what you are also supporting (is) lack of true leadership in the legislative chambers when members don’t even read the bills before passing them,” he said.