Taking a harder line on health care, the Trump administration joined a coalition of Republican-led states Wednesday in asking a federal appeals court to entirely overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Congress rendered the Affordable Care Act completely unconstitutional in 2017 by eliminating an unpopular tax penalty for not having insurance, the administration and GOP states told the court.
The “Obamacare” opponents hope to persuade the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to uphold U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling late last year striking down the law.
Early on, the administration argued that only certain key parts of the ACA, such as protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, should be invalidated. But it said other important provisions such as Medicaid expansion, subsidies for premiums and health insurance markets could continue to stand.
Wednesday, the administration said it had reconsidered in light of O’Connor’s ruling. “The remaining provisions of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect — again, even if the government might support some individual positions as a policy matter,” the administration wrote in its court filing.
The Justice Department’s legal brief also seemed to be trying to carve out some exceptions. For example, the administration said the ACA’s anti-fraud provisions should remain in effect.
The now-repealed fines enforce the law’s insurance requirement, and without them the rest of the law cannot pass constitutional muster, the administration wrote.
O’Connor’s ruling last December came in a case filed by Texas and a coalition of Republican-led states. He said that without a tax penalty, the law’s requirement that most Americans have insurance is unconstitutional. Democratic attorneys general, led by California’s Xavier Becerra, and the U.S. House of Representatives have appealed.
The appeals court is expected to hold oral arguments in July. Meanwhile, the effects of the lower court ruling have been on hold pending appeals..
The states took the same position as the administration.
“At issue is not what health-insurance system is optimal, but ‘only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution’ to command the people as the ACA does,” the states wrote in their brief.
In their appeal, Becerra and his coalition argued that zeroing out the penalty does not make the individual mandate unconstitutional — noting that the framework for the tax remains in place.
After the fines were repealed, Republican lawmakers in Congress explained their votes as an attempt to correct the law’s most unpopular provision, not bring down the entire law.