The Trump administration delivered an early midterms present to Democrats Thursday night when the Justice Department chose to side with 20 GOP states in a lawsuit seeking to gut the core protections of the Affordable Care Act for people with pre-existing conditions.
Under these provisions of the law, insurance companies can not deny coverage or charge higher rates to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
These consumer protections proved enormously popular with Americans and are among the reasons why efforts to repeal Obamacare in Congress failed past year.
Republicans have been trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act - a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's legacy - since it was enacted in 2010 without any Republican votes.
Legal specialists also point out that the Trump administration's failure to defend the federal health law could have long-lasting implications for the rule of law in the nation.
This claim is based on two features of the law's text: It contains no severability clause - standard language to the effect that the statute would remain valid even if one or more of its provisions proved to be in violation of existing law - and its explicit assertion that the ACA can not function without the individual mandate. In the new suit, California is leading a group of Democrat-led states in defending the law.
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The states argue that now that Congress repealed the penalty for not having coverage in the tax bill previous year, ObamaCare's individual mandate can no longer be upheld as a tax, and that it therefore should be invalidated.
Insurers, meanwhile, warned that the administration's actions could rock the individual market and could lead to higher premiums, especially for those battling illnesses. In their suit, lodged in February in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, they argue that the entire law is now invalid. He said he acted after "careful consideration" and with the "approval of the President of the United States".
As many as 130 million adults under age 65 in the USA have pre-existing conditions that could result in their not being able to get insurance coverage in the private market, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And the Justice Department says it agrees with those states, and it will not defend some of the key remaining provisions in the law.
The Justice Department legal position nevertheless signals a remarkable willingness by the Trump administration to abandon landmark consumer protections in the health care law that for the first time prohibit health insurers from turning away sick consumers.
"Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections", the group said.
"The Department in the past has declined to defend a statute in cases in which the president has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional and made manifest that it should not be defended, as is the case here", Sessions wrote. And the Trump administration has not asserted that the Medicaid expansion made possible by the health care law should be rolled back. "The brief filed by the Trump Administration yesterday represents a shocking break from precedent and relies on legally dubious, partisan claims to argue against the constitutionality of the current law". If the judge in the case agrees, millions of Americans with preexisting conditions could face denial of coverage or higher premiums.
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In an unusual filing just before 6 p.m. Thursday, when the brief was due, the three career Justice attorneys involved in the case - Joel McElvain, Eric Beckenhauer and Rebecca Kopplin - withdrew.
Many health care experts disagree with that position.
Sessions said he agreed with the plaintiffs that without the mandate, the decision in the 2012 National Federation of Independent Business vs. former Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, is the proper course.
Senate Democrats have vowed to make health care policy a priority this summer, as they gear up for midterm elections this November.
Recent polling indicates that this could be a political victor for Democrats attempting to recapture at least one chamber of Congress.
Because the lawsuit could easily go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take years, the protections for people with preexisting conditions are likely to stay in place during that period.
The new challenge comes six years after the Supreme Court's divided ruling that the ACA is constitutional.
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