Latest 'Obamacare' Court Battle Plays out in New Orleans

Grant Boone
July 10, 2019

During oral arguments in a case with momentous stakes for consumers and politicians ahead of the 2020 elections, two members of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit grilled lawyers representing Democratic-led states and the U.S. House to explain why the Affordable Care Act remains valid.

The Democratic lawyers fighting to preserve the law argued that the Republican Congress had tried and failed to repeal the ACA two years ago and that by eliminating the penalty in late 2017 as part of broad tax changes, it had not touched any other parts of the sprawling statute.

Texas and the other Republican-led states that have sued to invalidate the law argue that when Congress in 2017 scrapped a penalty against people who didn't have health insurance, lawmakers removed a pillar of the law that was critical to getting young, healthy people to sign up for coverage and keeping premiums affordable.

Speaking on behalf of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the 18 other states involved in the case, the state's Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins urged the panel to rule that ObamaCare is unconstitutional in its entirety, arguing that when Congress enacted President Trump's tax overhaul, it rendered ObamaCare unconstitutional by doing away with the tax penalty for violating the plan's individual mandate. If the appeals court upholds the ruling, 20 million people are at risk of losing insurance coverage and people with pre-existing would have their protections eliminated.

The fate of the law is now in the hands of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of "Texas vs".

And while Trump has repeatedly said that people with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, would be covered even if the law is struck down, he has not issued any specific plans to do so. The state argues that Congress' removal past year of the ACA's individual mandate has transformed the legality of the entire law.

But since the tax is now zero, conservatives say the law is doomed. The Trump administration is not defending the law and has filed arguments in favour of Mr O'Connor's ruling.

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"There is a political solution here", he said, adding that the courts should not be a "taxidermist" for every big-ticket law Congress passes. The House intervened after Democrats won control in November's elections after many focused their campaigns on defending Obamacare. Judge Jennifer Elrod, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, asked during Tuesday's hearing on a sweltering day in New Orleans. But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to impose the tax.

The Justice Department initially argued the mandate was unconstitutional but most of Obamacare could be severed from it.

With no tax penalty now in effect, the Texas lawsuit argues, the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law must fall without it. O'Connor, the federal judge in Texas, agreed in a December ruling. King was nominated to the appeals court by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

"Another year of stable enrollment", Seema Verma, who oversees the marketplaces as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in March after the agency released a report showing 11.4 million people signed up for coverage on the marketplaces for 2019, just shy of the total the year before.

"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.

Democrats in the Senate said on Monday that Republicans will pay a political price if the case results in the loss of popular "Obamacare".

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