Thursday, 19 September, 2019

Thousands Of Mainers Could Be Affected If Affordable Care Act Is Overturned

Latest 'Obamacare' Court Battle Plays out in New Orleans Trump-backed Lawsuit to Invalidate Obamacare Back in Court
Anna Jefferson | 10 July, 2019, 17:01

"You want to strike it down, only in certain states, in its entirety?"

The 100-minute hearing was dominated by two Republican-appointed judges: Jennifer Elrod, named by President George W. Bush, and Kurt Engelhardt, appointed by President Donald Trump.

"A lot of this stuff has to be sorted out, and it's complicated", replied the attorney, August Flentje, as he shifted uncomfortably.

The fate of former President Barack Obama's health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act, is once again in jeopardy.

It was prompted by the tax bill Republicans passed in 2017.

In 2018, Democrats mainly relied on messaging that touted the Affordable Care Act and its coverage of pre-existing conditions. "The Supreme Court has taken up Obamacare many times", she said.

Since the administration is not defending the law, Democratic attorneys general and members of the House are leading the appeal. A host of ACA provisions would be eliminated, including: "protections for people with pre-existing conditions, subsidies to make individual health insurance more affordable, expanded eligibility for Medicaid, coverage of young adults up to age 26 under their parents' insurance policies, coverage of preventive care with no patient cost-sharing, closing of the doughnut hole under Medicare's drug benefit, and a series of tax increases to fund the new benefits".

The Fort Worth judge concluded in December that wiping out the penalty undermined the ACA's constitutional basis and invalidated the whole law.

In an unusual break with tradition, the Trump administration announced about a year ago that it would not defend the ACA in court.

The two Republican appointees voiced frustration that lawmakers haven't resolved the situation on their own.

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Despite such pointed questioning, the hearing did not clearly foreshadow how the panel will rule in the appeal of a December opinion by a federal district judge in Texas who said the entire ACA is unconstitutional. "There's a political solution and you're asking this court to roll up its sleeves and get involved in it".

Among the arguments by the law's supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren't harmed by a penalty 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 even if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that does not affect the rest of the law known as the Affordable Care Act. "So congressional intent is clear".

If one part of the ACA is subsequently declared unlawful, that's no reason to toss out the entire law, Letter told the panel.

"That means the choice is still there", he said during the hearing.

Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins warned the judges that "congressional intent is not monolithic, and it's a very hard and risky game" to try to second-guess what Congress really meant.

"All the court has to do is look at the text of the [tax law], see that Congress zeroed out the only thing enforceable", he said.

Hawkins, representing 18 states including Texas, backed by the Trump administration, said the entire law needs to be thrown out. By far the most vocal judge of the three, Elrod probed both sides on the issue of standing - whether they have the right to participate in the lawsuit at all.

Not this time. And it is still unclear exactly what the administration's position is on the lawsuit.

Engelhardt questioned why, after a United States district judge declared the whole ACA unconstitutional, Congress did not pass legislation clarifying what provisions should stay on the books. "The issue is complicated and would need to be sorted out", he said.

The case could eventually reach the Supreme Court, where conservative justices have previously rejected the argument that Congress could require everyone to buy insurance under the Constitution's interstate commerce clause.

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