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Trump administration's latest attack on Obamacare would gut protections for the sick

Trump administration's latest attack on Obamacare would gut protections for the sick

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.

If a federal judge in Texas agrees with the Department of Justice's (DOJ) move to not defend the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions of Americans could lose their healthcare coverage or face higher premiums for having preexisting conditions, a legal professor wrote Friday in a blog post for The Commonwealth Fund.

If that argument prevails in the courts, it would render unconstitutional Obamacare provisions that ban insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions - arguably the most popular component of the 2010 health care law. O'Connor was appointed by George W. Bush and recently ruled that health care providers can not be forced to perform procedures that conflict with their religious beliefs.

She cited a report from health care think tank Kaiser Family Foundation that estimates more than 52 million Americans have pre-existing health problems that would "likely leave them uninsurable" if it weren't for the Affordable Care Act's regulations. It will add fuel to Democrats' efforts to make health care a campaign issue in the mid-term elections.

Andy Kim, a former Obama administration staffer, is making coverage of pre-existing conditions and access to affordable health care a key part of his campaign against Rep. Tom MacArthur in Central New Jersey, the author of the Obamacare repeal bill that passed the House but failed in the Senate past year. The court said that while this "individual mandate" exceeded Congress' power to regulate commerce, it could be upheld as an exercise of Congress' taxing power. The letter acknowledges that the decision not to defend an existing law deviates from history but contends that it is not unprecedented. The administration instead called on federal courts to scuttle the health law's protection for people with preexisting medical conditions and its requirement that people buy health coverage. The DOJ in fact sided in large part with the states, arguing that the law's protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be invalidated.

In court papers, the Justice Department said it doesn't want to stop the law in its tracks, but said they agreed with the plaintiffs who say the most famous parts of the law are now illegal.

Democrats, who were already favored going into this November's election both on the generic ballot and on health care in particular, pounced on the news of the lawsuit, predicting "serious blowback in the midterms" for Republicans.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of NY urged President Donald Trump to reverse the decision.

Supporters of the health care law expressed considerable alarm on Friday.

"Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections", the group said.

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

This current lawsuit, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, argues that since Congress has changed the law to remove the penalty forcing individuals to get insurance, it has inadvertently rendered the rest of the law impermissible, under the 2012 Supreme Court ruling.

Donald B. Verrilli Jr., a solicitor general in the Obama administration, said there were obviously reasonable arguments that could be made in defense of the Affordable Care Act in the Texas case, pointing to those in a brief filed Thursday by California and 15 other states. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a statement.

Epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, lupus, sleep apnea, and pregnancy are all examples of pre-existing conditions. He recently ruled that 16 other states and the District of Columbia could join in the case formally to defend the ACA against the challenge.

"Withdrawing from a case en masse like this, right before the brief is filed, is unheard of", noted Nicholas Bagley, a former Justice Department lawyer who now teaches at the University of Michigan Law School. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor is presiding. "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", Matt Eyles, AHIP's president and CEO, said Friday in a statement. In May, the court allowed them to "intervene" in the case.

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