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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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Pam Bondi’s (and Rick Scott’s) Texas-sized role in Affordable Care Act fight

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor's Friday night ruling to throw out the Affordable Care Act shocked many judiciary and health-law experts who never expected such a far-reaching decision.

Although the law will remain in effect while it's appealed by a number of states with Democratic attorneys general (California, New York) and probably end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, O'Connor's ruling eliminates President Barack Obama's signature 2010 health care law.

Gone is the individual mandate to buy insurance. Gone are consumer protections that prohibit charging more or refusing to cover patients with preexisting conditions. Millions now face having no health insurance, just like before the law.

So let's not forget the critical role that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott played in this legal fight.

Bondi was a little-known prosecutor from Hillsborough County who had grown her profile with regular appearances on Fox News. She made it clear that she fully supported a lawsuit filed by Florida's then-Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum that challenged the Affordable Care Act.

"People don't want it and we can't afford it," Bondi said about the health care law said on the campaign trail.

Scott, a former health care executive, ran for office vowing to repeal the law, too. His campaign website in 2010 stated: "Rick led the fight to defeat President Obama's government-run public option" and that he "supports a state constitutional amendment in Florida that prohibits the federal government from imposing President Obama's individual mandate." After getting elected, he told congressional leaders in December 2010 that "I am going to focus on the repealing of the health care bill because I think it's the biggest job killer ever in the history of this country."

Upon taking office in 2011, Bondi and Scott were relentless.

"This is about liberty, it's not just about health care. And the federal government cannot force us to purchase a product or a good," Bondi said. "We all know we need health care reform. This is not the way to do it."

But Obamacare was upheld in a 2012 Supreme Court decision that said it was constitutional because the individual mandate was enforced by a tax penalty. (Florida ended up paying $38,610 for its share of the multistate challenge after getting reimbursed most of the $300,000 it spent to launch the lawsuit).

After Congress repealed that tax penalty in 2017, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed another challenge to the law in February. Its argument: Without that tax penalty, the constitutional rationale that justified the upholding of the law in 2012 no longer existed. President Donald Trump's administration refused to defend the law.

Bondi, who faced no reelection battle, signed on to Paxton's lawsuit. Gov. Rick Scott, who faced a tough battle against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, did not. Although he was a driving force in the initial challenge against the law, in election mode, his staff wouldn't say if he supported or opposed this one. Instead, he vowed that preexisting conditions should be covered.

O'Connor's decision throws out those protections, but there's no penalty for Scott to pay.

A conservative judge who has ruled against the Affordable Care Act before, O'Connor ruled well after the midterms, during which Democrats made the Affordable Care Act the main issue.

As for Bondi, it's unclear if she'll ever seek public office again.

Despite their victory, Bondi and Scott didn't celebrate on Twitter, as they have in the past.

Bondi did tout a ruling on robocalls:

Meanwhile, Scott had an innocuous tweet about the economy.

It was left to Democrats to draw attention to the decision on social media.

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