The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act in a legal brief filed by the Justice Department late Thursday.
The 82-page brief reiterates the administration’s support for a suit filed by Republican officials in Texas and 17 other states that claims that the ACA became invalid in its entirety when the individual mandate – the tax penalty for not purchasing health insurance – was zeroed out by Congress in 2017.
“The entire ACA thus must fall with the individual mandate,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in the brief, which was filed shortly before a midnight deadline. “The individual mandate is no longer a valid exercise of Congress’s legislative authority in light of Congress’s elimination of the penalty for noncompliance.”
A political gamble. Although the Trump administration’s decision to stick to its guns on Obamacare repeal may please conservatives who have vehemently opposed the health law since its passage in 2010, success could be costly. If the court agrees with the suit and invalidates the ACA, it could cost more than 20 million Americans their health care coverage and eliminate broadly popular protections for those with pre-existing conditions, while sowing chaos in parts of the health care market that have been affected by the law. All that would occur in the middle of a pandemic that has already killed more than 120,000 people and caused a severe recession that has stripped millions of their employer-based health insurance.
The White House said that the coronavirus played no role in its stance on the issue. “A global pandemic does not change what Americans know — Obamacare has been an unlawful failure,” spokesperson Judd Deere said Friday.
Critics pounce. Democrats were quick to highlight the tension between the growing health crisis and the administration’s effort to eliminate health care for millions of people. “President Trump and the Republicans’ campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Even some Republicans think the approach is misguided, given the context. GOP strategist Joel White told The New York Times that it’s “pretty dumb to be talking about how we need to repeal Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic.”
More reliance on the ACA markets. A report Thursday from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed Americans have already turned to Obamacare for health coverage. About 487,000 people signed up for coverage during a special enrollment period after losing their jobs in 2020, an increase of 46% compared to 2019. April was the biggest month for new signups, which were 139% higher in 2020 than the year before.
What’s next. The court hasn’t said when it will hear the case, but oral arguments could take place in the fall, ahead of the election.