A federal appeals court will hear arguments from 18 states and the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday in a case that has the potential to derail the Affordable Care Act almost a decade after it took effect.
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.
The Republican governors and attorneys general argue that, since the Supreme Court upheld the health care law as a valid exercise of Congress' taxing authority, taking the tax away makes all of the law unconstitutional.
In December, a federal judge in Texas backed the plaintiffs' argument, issuing a highly controversial ruling that the entire law is unconstitutional.
If successful, the Texas lawsuit would strip coverage from as many as 20 million people and eliminate scores of other health care protections, including prescription drug assistance for seniors who rely on the Medicare Part D program.
Former US president Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, which has insured tens of millions of Americans, went before a federal appeals court Tuesday in a high-stakes case whose outcome could play a major role in the 2020 presidential campaign. Judge Jennifer Elrod, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, asked during Tuesday's hearing on a sweltering day in New Orleans.
In December, a Texas-based federal judge agreed with the lawsuit, filed by a coalition of 18 Republican-leaning states with some backing from the Trump administration. It was filed after Congress - which didn't repeal the law, despite pressure from President Donald Trump - reduced to zero the unpopular tax imposed on those without insurance.
A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stepped into the void to defend the law.
The opposed states argue the law is a cavalier attempt to mandate Americans buy health insurance the government deems suitable and necessary. But the administration made waves earlier this year when the Justice Department weighed in on the case, filing a brief saying that it agreed with the district court's ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional.
"The entire Affordable Care Act can cooperate without the individual mandate", California Solicitor General Samuel Siegel told the court, according to CNN, adding that if Congress had wanted to eliminate the law in its entirety it could have done so.
However, Engelhardt also questioned why the case that will determine the future of the ACA was being litigated in a courtroom, instead of debated and voted on in Congress. King was nominated to the appeals court by Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Most insurance markets continue to function, and millions of poor Americans are still getting coverage through an expansion of Medicaid, also made possible by the law. The law now protects those individuals from denial of coverage or steeper prices because they have chronic illnesses.
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.
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.
"If they are successful in striking down the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will own all of the consequences", Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of NY said on a call Monday with reporters.