Why court battle represents existential threat to Obamacare

Henrietta Strickland
July 10, 2019

A federal appeals court panel appeared sympathetic on Tuesday to Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare, expressing skepticism to Democratic calls to overturn the ruling of a Texas judge who found the landmark USA healthcare reform law unconstitutional. Different analysts think that if the 5th Circuit upholds the Affordable Care Act (ACA) then the Supreme Court would be unlikely to take up Obamacare again.

A federal judge in Texas agreed, ruling in December that the change invalidates Obamacare in its entirety.

Republican opponents call the law an unwarranted intervention by government in health insurance markets, while supporters say striking it down would threaten the healthcare of 20 million people who have gained insurance since its enactment. The Justice Department isn't defending the law, but Democratic lawmakers and officials are.

"If you no longer have the tax, why isn't it unconstitutional?" asked Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. He said it's important to ensure coverage, where the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have promised to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

Henneke rejected arguments that Congress never meant to repeal the ACA in its entirety when it zeroed out the individual mandate tax penalty in 2017.

A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stepped into the void to defend the law.

Chief Justice John Roberts in 2012 famously upheld Obamacare by declaring it legal as a tax.

He noted the GOP-led Senate wasn't before the court, even as House Democrats dispatched a lawyer to argue in defense of the law.

With no tax penalty now in effect, the Texas lawsuit argues, the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law must fall without it.

A third judge - Carolyn Dineen King, appointed by President Jimmy Carter -did not ask any questions. She and the other GOP appointee, Judge Kurt Engelhardt, named by President Trump past year, repeatedly noted that the law was written without an explicit feature guaranteeing that if one part were ever removed by Congress or the courts, the rest would remain in place.

California and the 19 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, which won permission to defend the law when the Trump administration declined to do so, appealed to the federal court in New Orleans to reverse the Texas ruling.

But the 5th Circuit threw a new twist into the saga in late June, questioning whether the Democratic coalition and House of Representatives have the legal standing to bring the appeal. On that list: preventing insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more for pre-existing conditions, and allowing adult children to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26.

At one point, Engelhardt suggested that it was up to Congress to forge a solution to the disputes that have dogged the law since its passage, when Democrats controlled Congress and President Barack Obama was just over a year into his tenure. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions like cancer and diabetes. Half of Democrats' campaign ads during the midterm elections focused its messaging on health care and the law.

Trump, who has vowed to protect coverage for preexisting conditions despite supporting the lawsuit to unwind the law, has sent mixed signals about when the party will come up with a new health care proposal.

"President Trump and Republicans are playing a very risky game with people's lives", Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on a conference call Monday.

Democratic leaders in both the Senate and the House on Tuesday warned their Republican colleagues of the costs - both political and financial - the loss of the popular ObamaCare would incur.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

Discuss This Article