DOJ sides with lower court, says Obamacare should be struck down
designer491/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Department of Justice said it supports a federal judge’s ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be overturned, signaling a major shift in the Trump administration’s stance on the Obama-era federal health care law.
“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” three department lawyers wrote in a letter submitted Monday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is now considering the case. “Because the United States is not urging that any portion of the district court’s judgment be reversed, the government intends to file a brief on the appellees’ schedule.”
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Tuesday morning.
A coalition of Republican-led states filed a lawsuit in Texas last year against the federal government, arguing that Congress’ decision to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty — a fee Americans paid if they didn’t enroll in some form of health insurance coverage — should render the entire law invalid.
“Once the heart of the ACA — the individual mandate — is declared unconstitutional, the remainder of the ACA must also fall,” according to the lawsuit.
At the time, the Justice Department argued only two provisions of the health care law should be tossed out: one that requires insurance companies to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions and another that prevents insurers from charging a higher premium due to pre-existing conditions. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the rest of the law, including Medicaid expansion, can remain in place.
In December, a Texas-based district court judge ruled that the individual mandate is in fact unconstitutional, nullifying the entire health care law. The case is now awaiting a decision by a federal appeals court in New Orleans.
The outcome of the case could translate into an abrupt and disruptive turn in the nation’s health care system. Some 8.8 million people signed up for a plan on Healthcare.gov for the 2018 coverage year.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — who supported the lawsuit — has insisted that the administration has a “plan B” to protect people with pre-existing conditions if the court strikes down the entire health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.
“The president has been 100 percent clear: He will not sign a repeal-and-replace package for Obamacare that does not adequately protect individuals who have preexisting conditions,” Azar told ABC News in October. “There are many ways to do that, but he will not sign any package that does not protect people with pre-existing conditions.”
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