Backed Lawsuit to Invalidate Obamacare Back in Court

Henrietta Brewer
July 10, 2019

The arguments presented before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the latest development in a 2018 lawsuit that claims the absence of a tax converts the law into an unconstitutional directive to U.S. citizens to buy a product.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal Obamacare since its 2010 passage.

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.

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. 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. 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.

Late past year, a federal district judge in Texas agreed.

The Republican coalition, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, maintains that the change rendered the mandate itself unconstitutional.

O'Connor, nominated by former Republican President George W Bush, said that because Obamacare called the mandate "essential", the entire law must be struck down.

California and the other states defending the law argue Congress did not intend to repeal the whole law when it did away with the mandate penalty in the massive tax bill enacted in 2017. "Stripped of its tax status, the individual mandate is nothing more than an unconstitutional congressional mandate to purchase health insurance". But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to impose a tax on those without insurance.

But in a surprise move in March, the Justice Department said it now agrees with the December ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down.

But Douglas Letter, an attorney for the House, argued that eliminating the tax penalty didn't undermine the law's constitutionality.

Flentje said the administration is "appreciative" that the district judge put his ruling on hold, stressing that if the Affordable Care Act falls, a lot must be sorted out.

Judge Engelhardt, a Trump appointee, appeared to sympathetic to the Republicans' argument Tuesday, though bemoaned the court's role in refereeing what appeared to be a political dispute over how much of Obamacare should be left intact. The third judge on the panel, Carolyn Dineen King, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter. Half of Democrats' campaign ads during the midterm elections focused its messaging on health care and the law. Initially, it argued that zeroing out the penalty invalidates only two of the law's protections of those with pre-existing conditions - specifically the provisions banning insurers from denying people policies or charging them more based on their medical histories.

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.

Obamacare, formally called the Affordable Care Act, was one of the most consequential healthcare measures in United States history.

Repealing the ACA has been a long-standing goal of Trump and Republicans, but they failed to do so in 2017 when the Senate narrowly missed the necessary number of votes.

"There's nobody in the Senate not in favor of covering pre-existing conditions, nobody", the Kentucky Republican said, adding he thinks it's likely the case will go back to the Supreme Court.

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