Insurer lobby group weighs in on Obamacare individual mandate case

Maricruz Casares
Junio 10, 2018

The Justice Department said in a court filing late Thursday that it will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, beginning with the unpopular requirement that people carry health insurance, but also including widely-supported provisions that guarantee access for people with pre-existing medical problems and limit what insurers can charge older, sicker adults.

Still, insurers downplayed the size of the impact of the litigation, saying uncertainty from the repeal of the individual mandate penalties last December and other recent changes that loosen regulations in the health insurance market have already been factored into prices.

In court papers, the Justice Department said it doesn't want to stop the law in its tracks, but said they agreed with the plaintiffs who say the most famous parts of the law are now illegal.

"The administration's attempt to eliminate protections for the 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions is just the latest - and potentially the most damaging - example of the coordinated effort by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, driving up uninsured rates and out-of-pocket costs for Americans", the Democrats said.

Texas says that without the fine in place the requirement to have health insurance is unconstitutional and that the entire law should be struck down as a result, the Associated Press reported. For instance, it did not go after the creation of health insurance marketplaces, premium subsidies for low-income members and Medicaid expansion.

The Trump administration is siding with Texas in the state's bid to convince a federal judge that Obamacare is largely unconstitutional.

Texas and the accompanying states have asked for a preliminary injunction that could suspend the entire law while the case plays out in court.

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Reyes said Friday that "the individual mandate can not be severed" from the parts of the Affordable Care Act that prohibit insurers from increasing a person's premium rates or denying them coverage based on their health history.

"Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections", the group said. Tellingly, three career Justice Department attorneys withdrew from representing the United States immediately before filing the brief, apparently unwilling to sign their names to a legally questionable brief.

The lawsuit led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, argued an earlier case against the ACA made it clear that tax penalty was an essential component of the law, and when the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the ruling stated "without the tax penalty, the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance was an unconstitutional exercise of federal power".

The state has been at the forefront in resisting many Trump Administration policies, including on health care and immigration. He said the department only refused to defend the pre-existing conditions provision as well as one forbidding insurers from charging people in the same community different rates based on gender, age, health status or other factors. Legal experts are also skeptical the case will prevail and say it will take many months for a decision in the case, and the lawsuit could play out for years because of appeals.

Democrats are seeking to tie the move into their argument that the Trump administration is "sabotaging" health care and driving up premiums, a key midterm message.

If the court agrees with the Justice Department's argument to toss out part of the law that protects individuals with an existing medical condition, that could affect millions of Americans who buy insurance directly from the marketplace.

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