The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) ( P.L. 111-148) individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power. However, the central question of whether the rest of the ACA remains valid after Congress removed the penalty for not having health insurance remained unanswered. Instead, the case was sent back to the district court to reconsider how much of the ACA could survive without the individual mandate penalty.
According to the opinion, “the rule of law demands a careful, precise explanation of whether the provisions of the ACA are affected by the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate as it exists today.” Therefore, the opinion directs the district court to carefully consider whether the mandate can be legally distinct from the rest of the law. The opinion instructs the district court to answer two questions: Which parts of the ACA “are indeed inseverable” now that the mandate is no longer enforced and whether a ruling in the case should apply only to the Republican-led states that sued to overturn the law, an issue raised by Trump administration lawyers.
A dissenting opinion discussed that Congress made it clear that it wanted the rest of the ACA to stand and sending the case back to the lower court was criticized. The opinion also highlighted that sending the case back to the lower court merely identifies serious flaws in the district court’s analysis and remands for a do-over, which will unnecessarily prolong this litigation and the concomitant uncertainty over the future of the health care sector.