CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Democrats announced Tuesday they are again supporting a resolution to have the Senate Legal Counsel intervene in a lawsuit regarding former President Barack Obama’s health care law, a month after a federal judge ruled the legislative overhaul as unconstitutional.
Forty-seven senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, cosponsored the resolution, the first on the matter of the 116th Congress.
A federal district judge ruled in December the health care law is unconstitutional following the repeal of the individual mandate in the 2017 tax overhaul bill; Judge Reed O’Connor said the individual mandate, which required people to purchase health insurance, was essential to “Obamacare,” meaning the removal of the provision makes the entire law invalid.
Twenty states, including West Virginia, brought forward the lawsuit, and the United States Department of Justice did not defend the law in court. The federal circuit court in New Orleans has taken up the case, but proceedings are paused because of the partial government shutdown.
According to Manchin, around 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions would be at risk of losing insurance coverage if the involved states receive a favorable ruling. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources tweeted last week more than 153,000 people are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion, which was possible because of the federal health care law.
“All we’ve asked for in this resolution was allow us to use our legal staff to intervene in this horrible, horrible lawsuit,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday during a press conference.
Manchin has repeatedly criticized West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for supporting the lawsuit; the legal action was among the matters noted by Manchin campaign during last year’s election cycle.
“He’s still defending it to the hilt — still defending it to the hilt — thinking it is the right thing to do to throw this many people off (of insurance coverage,” the senator said Tuesday of Morrisey.
As a Senate candidate, Morrisey said he supports a provision protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions, but health care costs have risen because of “Obamacare.”
“The AG lawsuit seeks to stop the FEDS from forcing you to purchase health insurance against your will,” he said in a Jan. 6 tweet. “We must end Obamacare’s skyrocketing premiums, and Congress’ corrupt sweetheart subsidies. We can and must move beyond Obamacare while helping people w/preexisting conditions.”
Senate Republicans introduced a bill last year that would have protected coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, but Manchin said it would not have covered reoccurring conditions, adding the GOP abandoned the resolution.
“We’re saying, ‘Please, allow us and join us in this resolution,'” Manchin said. “I think it is something we feel very strongly about and something the American people feel very strongly in every state.”
The House of Representatives voted last week to defend the health care law as part of the chamber’s rules for the current Congress. The House’s Office of General Counsel will represent the body in any legal proceedings and employ outside counsel if needed.
The chamber accepted the rules in a 235-192 vote. Republicans David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller voted against adoption.