By Andy Roesgen
CHICAGO, United States (AA) – The Affordable Care Act (ACA), the signature achievement of former President Back Obama, stared down another challenge, and won on Thursday, even with a newly shaped Supreme Court.
The Court refused to overturn the law, which provides health insurance coverage to about 31 million Americans.
There had been two previous challenges to the law that the Court dismissed, but this was the first time a challenge reached the Court with its new 7-2 majority of conservative justices, including three members appointed by former President Donald Trump, a vocal critic of the law.
The ruling came on a challenge from Republican-led states regarding a penalty provision in the ACA, which narrowly passed Congress in 2010.
Originally, Americans were ordered to prove they had health insurance or pay a penalty when it came time to pay their taxes.
But in 2017, Congress decided to remove the penalty, making the health care requirement pointless.
Republican-led states argued to the Court that without the penalty, the framework of the law was no longer constitutional and should be tossed out entirely.
But the Court ruled that the states had no right, or "standing" to challenge the law.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion for the majority and said the challengers "have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act's minimum essential coverage provision."
The three newer conservative Court members, appointed by Trump since the last challenge to the ACA, split votes.
Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh voted with the majority, while Neil Gorsuch voted against.
The other dissenting justice, long-time ACA critic Samuel Alito, sounded exasperated when he wrote for the minority. "Today's decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two … with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue," he said.
But US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer celebrated the ruling, writing on Twitter: "Today, the American people have won again! After over a decade of Republican attacks: The ACA is here to stay."
The ACA provides a range of insurance protections, including those for people with pre-existing medical conditions, and lets those under the age of 26 remain on their parents' health care plans.
It also provides preventative health services at no cost and expands the Medicaid program that insures people who work in jobs with low pay or that do not provide health insurance.
Current President Joe Biden expanded coverage of the ACA since taking office. Polls, which have fluctuated over the years, show the ACA is now more popular than ever.
A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 54% of Americans approve of the law while 39% disapprove.