U.S. Justice's ACA decision is latest of many shifts

U.S. Justice's ACA decision is latest of many shifts

In the court filing late Thursday, President Trump's administration said the department will no longer defend key parts of the ACA - also known as Obamacare - including the requirement that people have health insurance and provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions, drawing a dramatic reaction from Valley lawmakers.

But Justice Department lawyers do argue that with no penalty for not having coverage, the federal government can not make health insurers cover sick consumers or prohibit insurers from charging sick consumers higher premiums, as was routinely done before the health care law was implemented.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican state attorneys general on February 26, which charged that Congress' changes to the law in last year's tax bill rendered the entire ACA unconstitutional. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

The Trump administration is siding with Texas in the state's bid to convince a federal judge that Obamacare is largely unconstitutional.

These consumer protections proved enormously popular with Americans and are among the reasons why efforts to repeal Obamacare in Congress failed past year.

The president previous year issued an executive order directing federal agencies to make it easier to buy two alternatives to Affordable Care Act plans. Even President Donald Trump called it one of the law's "strongest assets" during an interview with "60 Minutes" shortly after he won the election.

Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, Obamacare in its entirety was unlawful. In the new suit, California is leading a group of Democrat-led states in defending the law.

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Timothy Jost, law professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University in Virginia said the Trump administration is trying to persuade the court to do what it was unable to achieve in Congress a year ago - essentially, repeal key parts of the Obama health law.

The administration's decision also is likely to further roil insurance markets that are seeing very large premium increases, fed in part by other moves by the Trump administration to loosen insurance regulations.

Because the ACA contains no severability clause protecting the rest of the law from the effects of the nullification of part of the law, a ruling killing the individual mandate should kill the rest of the ACA, the states say. Collins, who voted against the Republican bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the Senate past year, also expressed concern about the administration's new push to undo it. The court upheld the ACA individual mandate under Congress's tax power as the tax penalty for failing to have the minimum health insurance coverage required was within Congress' authority.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Thursday - before the Trump administration decision was unveiled - found health care was the top issue for all voters and that it's an issue where Democrats have an overwhelming advantage.

The Trump administration said Thursday that it will not defend portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a challenge by 20 states.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a trade group for health insurers, today put out a statement arguing that eliminating the current underwriting rules for 2019 would lead to major disruption in the individual major medical market.

Jost said it's telling that three career Justice Department lawyers refused to support the administration's position.

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The news rallied defenders of the law into action and raised questions among legal scholars about the likelihood it would succeed.

The reason so many people could be affected by this decision is because it would apply not just to people with individual insurance policies, "but also [to] people with preexisting conditions who have employer-sponsored coverage".

Friday, the insurance industry warned in stark terms of "harm that would come to millions of Americans" if such protections are struck down, causing premiums "to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients".

But Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said it's not unprecedented for the Justice Department to refuse to defend a law it views as unconstitutional, so he doesn't see their decision as problematic.

But the administration disagrees with that position.

Just hours before the Justice Department officially withdrew from the case, three of the staff attorneys who had been working on it withdrew.

Some Democratic politicians didn't waste much time. The lawsuit will be heard by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of the Northern District of Texas. Whatever the lower courts decide, the case seems destined to reach the Supreme Court.

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