Health Care

Obamacare 'individual mandate' constitutionality doubted by appeals court judges

Obamacare 'individual mandate' constitutionality doubted by appeals court judges”

The future of the United States's Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, could be at stake on Tuesday when a group of Democratic-led states and the House of Representatives urge a federal appeals court to overturn a Texas judge's ruling that the USA healthcare reform law is unconstitutional.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal Obamacare since its 2010 passage.

A number of Democratic-led states, led by California, and the U.S. House appealed the lower court's ruling invalidating the law, arguing that even though Congress eliminated the penalty, "doing so neither imposes any legal injury nor violates the Constitution", California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued.

If successful, the Texas lawsuit would strip coverage from as many as 20 million people and eliminate scores of other health care protections, including prescription drug assistance for seniors who rely on the Medicare Part D program. The case is likely headed to the Supreme Court, where the same five-justice majority that has twice voted to uphold the law - in 2012 and 2015 - remains in place.

Scheduled to hear Tuesday's arguments were 5th Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Kurt Engelhardt.

After Trump signed a tax bill passed by a Republican-led Congress that reduced the tax penalty to zero dollars, a coalition of Republican-led states headed by Texas sued, alleging the tax penalty's elimination rendered Obamacare unconstitutional.

The administration's stance left the task of defending Obamacare to a coalition of Democratic attorneys general and the House of Representatives, which joined in earlier this year after Democrats took control of it.

Among the arguments by the law's supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren't harmed by a tax that doesn't exist; the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, but the tax's legal structure still exists; and if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that doesn't affect the rest of the law. But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to impose the tax.

But in a surprise move in March, the Justice Department said it now agrees with the December ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down.

The Trump administration, which in 2018 made the unusual decision not to defend the law, now fully backs Texas' lawsuit and is urging a full repeal. With no fine for those who refuse to buy insurance, they argued that the mandate is now unconstitutional, and since it's a central part of the law, so is the entire ACA.

Court decision could affect health care coverage for millions of Americans; Casey Stegall reports.

Letter countered that the House can not "fix" the problem on its own, saying the Senate and Trump must also sign on - which they "obviously" would not - eliciting snickers in the courtroom. Since its passage, the health care law has ingrained itself deeply into the US health care system. Initially, it argued that zeroing out the penalty invalidates only two of the law's protections of those with pre-existing conditions - specifically the provisions banning insurers from denying people policies or charging them more based on their medical histories. But it argued on appeal that rest of the law can not be severed.

Democrats in the Senate said on Monday that Republicans will pay a political price if the case results in the loss of popular "Obamacare".

"If the right wing wins the lawsuit, families from one end of America to the other will lose", Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said from the Capitol steps, where Democrats held photos of Americans who've gained coverage or marketplace protections from Obamacare.



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