Justice Dept. Declines to Defend Some Key ACA Provisions
- Hannah Pena
WASHINGTON - The US Justice Department on Thursday said the part of Affordable Care Act requiring people to have health insurance is unconstitutional, an unusual move that could lead to stripping away some of the most significant and popular parts of the law, better known as Obamacare.
The Justice Department said that also nullifies two other major provisions of Obamacare linked to the individual mandate, including one barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. And a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in May found that health care is one of the top issues on the minds of voters going into the 2018 midterms - especially Democrats.
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 past year. But Reyes contended the decision is a sign that the federal government is sensibly coming to terms with the constitutionality problems in the Affordable Care Act.
This claim is based on two features of the law's text: It contains no severability clause - standard language to the effect that the statute would remain valid even if one or more of its provisions proved to be in violation of existing law - and its explicit assertion that the ACA can not function without the individual mandate.
America's Health Insurance Plans said Friday that it plans to file a brief opposing the plaintiffs' request for emergency relief that would provides detail about the harm that would come to millions of Americans should their request to invalidate the ACA is granted either in whole or in part. The court held that Congress was able to offer people a choice: get insurance, or pay a tax.
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As the Cuomo administration frequently points out, the state's uninsured rate has fallen to below 5%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and insurance can be purchased for less than half its price in 2013 before the ACA was implemented.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a letter to Congress that Trump, who campaigned on repealing the law and almost did so his first year in office, approved the legal strategy. For instance, in 2012 the Obama Justice Department said it would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for federal purposes. Insurers say the individual health insurance market is more stable than people might think.
Becerra estimated that the states that back the health care law could lose half a trillion dollars in health care funding if the suit is successful.
The decision, announced in a filing in a federal court in Texas, is a rare departure from the Justice Department's practice of defending federal laws in court. United States argue that this rationale, such as it was, no longer applies because Congress reduced the tax-penalty to zero previous year.
The Department of Justice said it agrees with Texas that the so-called individual mandate will be unconstitutional without the fine.
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"Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections", the group said.
Supreme Court ruled that opponents of the ACA individual coverage mandate could not win a preliminary injunction blocking the mandate, because the ACA individual mandate was a tax, and a federal law prohibits parties from seeking preliminary injunctions to block new federal taxes.
The case in question was filed in February by the state of Texas along with 19 other states, all led by Republican governors. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the lawyers' withdrawal had been a department decision, declining to specify whether the lawyers had personally objected to continuing on the case. That would include such popular items as the guarantee that young people can stay on their family's health insurance plans until age 26, subsidies to help poorer people to afford health insurance, the existing state-level health insurance marketplaces ("exchanges"), the expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for poor people, and a mandate that larger employers provided minimum levels of health insurance coverage for their workers.
Recent polling indicates that this could be a political victor for Democrats attempting to recapture at least one chamber of Congress. "That change eliminated the basis for the court's decision to uphold the ACA's constitutionality".
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.
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President Donald Trump boards Air Force One to depart for travel to Singapore from the Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, Quebec, Canada , June 9, 2018 .
Asked about the Justice Department move, Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, spoke instead about the Democrats.
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