Fresh legal attack on health law comes with political risks

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers launched that attack on part of the ACA Wednesday, by asking a federal court in Texas to let the governments of Texas and other states that oppose the ACA win part of a suit they have filed - but only part of their suit.

Before the Affordable Care Act became law, insurance companies routinely declined health insurance coverage to people who had ongoing medical conditions or recent illnesses.

In announcing the lawsuit back in February, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, "The US Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional".

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". "At the worst it could strip away guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions".

In a brief filed in a federal court in Texas, the department said a tax law signed previous year by President Donald Trump that eliminated penalties for not having health insurance rendered the so-called individual mandate under Obamacare unconstitutional. But insurers said the legal debate alone could cause turmoil in insurance markets this summer. "It suggests that future administrations can pick and choose which laws they're going to enforce", he said. In the legal filing, the Department of Justice argues in favor of invalidating protections for those Americans with pre-existing conditions.

"Once the heart of the ACA-the individual mandate-is declared unconstitutional, the remainder of the ACA must also fall", the lawsuit alleges.

While the ACA has been the target of a sharply divided and partisan debate for almost a decade, pre-existing protections are one of the most popular actions Congress has taken in modern times.

This question of statutory interpretation does not involve the ACA's constitutionality and therefore does not implicate the Department's general practice of defending the constitutionality of federal law.

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

California and 15 other states filed an opposing brief on Thursday defending the law.

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Besides urging nullification of the insurance-buying mandate itself, the new government position argued that two of the most popular features of the ACA must fall along with it: the requirement that insurance companies can not deny health insurance to individuals because of existing or pre-existing medical conditions, and the requirement that they can not charge higher insurance premiums based on existing or pre-existing conditions. Yet how they would do so was far from clear, especially given Congress' inability so far under the administration to pass health-care legislation.

Repealing Obamacare has been a rallying cry for Republican candidates for the past eight years. Conservatives at the time accused the Justice Department of politicization.

The Democrats argued that DOJ's refusal to defend the controversial health care law could eliminate protections for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions and "have profound consequences for patients, the health care system and the American economy".

"You can definitely assume Democrats will use it to whip up their side", said Wilensky, administrator of Medicare under former President George H.W. Bush. "These are people who defend programs they disagree with all the time".

Rep. Tom MacArthur, New Jersey Republican, included a provision in the House bill that would have required insurers to cover sicker Americans but allowed states to waive the prohibition on charging them higher premiums.

After filing the brief in Texas, Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of the decision.

The Justice Department concurred, saying the court should consider ordering that as of January 1, two popular parts of the law will be invalid: that people with preexisting conditions must receive coverage, and that they can not be charged more than healthier consumers. "A compelling defense of the law is right there in black and white", Verrilli said in a statement.

O'Connor issued an order on May 16 that grants California and other states that support the ACA official intervenor status.

Texas said that without the fine in place the requirement to have health insurance is unconstitutional and the entire law should be struck down as a result.

"The Trump administration once again is allowing premiums to go up and middle class Americans to pay more", Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a tweet.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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