Another legal battle brews over health care law

Monday, 11 Jun, 2018

For the first time, the Trump Administration moved on Thursday to challenge the constitutionality of the key section of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") that required most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a financial penalty as part of their taxes.

But Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said it's not unprecedented for the Justice Department to refuse to defend a law it views as unconstitutional, so he doesn't see their decision as problematic.

"Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019", said America's Health Insurance Plans, one of the industry's main lobbying groups. "I think what they're doing is wrong, I think their attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act have been wrong, but look, they're the majority, they set the schedule".

"The pre-existing condition thing is what the ads will be run on", said Blendon.

The news rallied defenders of the law into action and raised questions among legal scholars about the likelihood it would succeed.

Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, Obamacare in its entirety was unlawful. The guarantee that people should be able to buy insurance regardless of their health history has been a popular provision of the divisive law - one that President Trump has praised, calling the law's prohibition on denying insurance to sick people "one of the strongest assets" of the Affordable Care Act in a "60 Minutes" interview before he took office.

Congress past year struck down only the tax penalty enforcing the individual-insurance mandate, and left the rest of the law intact.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican state attorneys general on February 26, which charged that Congress' changes to the law in last year's tax bill rendered the entire ACA unconstitutional.

House Republicans said Friday they aren't sweating the Trump administration's refusal to defend Obamacare against a lawsuit that could nix popular health care protections, saying the case is in its infancy and they acquitted themselves by offering an alternative health plan a year ago.

Linda Muller, president and CEO of Cornerstone Healthcare, the mid-Hudson's largest low-income health provider, said it would be disastrous if "an entire class of individuals with pre-existing conditions are targeted" by a federal decision not to support them.

The Supreme Court has twice upheld the constitutionality of the health law.

This is a huge deal... the administration's behavior sets a risky precedent about the obligation of this and future presidents to follow their constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws enacted by Congress....

"Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections", America's Health Insurance Plans said in a statement.

Becerra is leading an effort by Democratic attorney generals from others states and the District of Columbia to defend the ACA against that lawsuit. "A compelling defense of the law is right there in black and white", Verrilli said in a statement.

Epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, lupus, sleep apnea, and pregnancy are all examples of pre-existing conditions.

Just hours before the Justice Department officially withdrew from the case, three of the staff attorneys who had been working on it withdrew.

And Tim Hogan, a spokesman for Health Care Voters, a Democratic group looking to mobilize voters on the health care issue, called the decision a "blatant sabotage of the Affordable Care Act" and "something Republican members of Congress will have to explain to their constituents".

"I find it impossible to believe that the many talented lawyers at the department could not come up with any arguments to defend the ACA's insurance market reforms, which have made such a difference to millions of Americans", Verrilli said. But Martin S. Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor who was a Justice Department official in the Obama administration, called the mass withdrawal a likely sign of distress.

Mr. King said Congress should put in place the fixes that Republicans have offered since 2010, such as expansion of tax-advantaged health savings accounts and the sale of insurance across state lines.

The suit is being heard by Judge Reed O'Connell, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and has ruled against the ACA in other cases the past few years. In 2012, the Supreme Court held that the insurance mandate was unconstitutional as a nationwide mandate.