States, US House of Representatives submits responses in ‘Obamacare’ lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va.Seventeen state attorneys general and the U.S. House of Representatives have responded to briefs in a lawsuit on the federal health care law, contending the Trump administration and a coalition of Republican states have no legal bases on their arguments against “Obamacare.”

Wednesday’s reply briefs were submitted three weeks after the federal government and 18 states offered their arguments to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans supporting a federal judge’s ruling striking down the health care law.

“It is no secret that the plaintiffs, and their new-found allies in the federal Executive Branch, oppose the ACA as a policy matter — even though it has fundamentally changed our nation’s health care system and provided access to high-quality, affordable health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans,” the California-led state group said Wednesday in its brief. “But they can articulate no plausible legal ground for the breathtakingly broad policy change that they ask this Court to uphold under the guise of constitutional adjudication.”

A coalition of states, led by Texas and including West Virginia, has said the health care law is unconstitutional because of Congress’ repeal of the individual mandate as part of in the 2017 tax law. Judge Reed O’Connor, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ruled in December the individual mandate is essential to the health care law and without it, the statute cannot function.

The U.S. Department of Justice at first refused to defend the law in court, yet in March announced support for O’Connor’s ruling.

The intervening states said when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 to uphold former President Barack Obama’s health care law, the bench defined the individual mandate as not a penalty for refusing to purchase insurance, but rather as a choice between insurance or “paying a tax.” According to their reply, no state was negatively affected by this provision.

The states additionally said the individual mandate now can be understood as a provision encouraging people to purchase health insurance without being penalized, similar to other laws in effect.

Both the states and House noted the individual mandate can be separated from the entire health care law; they specifically mentioned Congress agreed to eliminate the individual mandate as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, keeping other parts of the law in place.

“The 2017 Congress’s actions establish beyond doubt that Congress would have wanted the Act to stand even if the mandate were invalidated. The severability factors that courts consider in the absence of direct evidence of congressional intent compel the same conclusion,” the House argued.

“Plaintiffs and DOJ urge this Court to invalidate the most transformative public health care law of the last half-century because they view a single sentence in it as unconstitutional. To do so, this Court would have to disregard Congress’s express determination that the Act can function without an enforceable mandate and Congress’s evident intent that the Act continue in effect,” it added.

The Democrat-controlled body also said the arguments by the plaintiffs and the Justice Department in opposition to the law are too broad.

“They do not even attempt to support their request for this sweeping and unprecedented remedy with any individualized analysis as to the hundreds of affected provisions,” it said.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press release the state will defend the law as long as the current administration and other states continue their efforts.

“We refuse to go back to the days when Americans with preexisting conditions, seniors, young adults, women, children and working families didn’t have access to quality, affordable health care. Our coalition stands strong to defend the ACA and healthcare every step of the way,” he said.

More than 20 million Americans — including people with pre-existing conditions and young people on their parents’ insurance plans — would be affected if “Obamacare” is deemed unconstitutional. In addition, a legal opinion striking down the law would impact people who gained health insurance as a result of Medicaid expansion in multiple states, including nearly 159,000 West Virginians.

Since the law has gone into effect, premiums in West Virginia have increased, but the state’s uninsured rate declined to 5.3% in 2016 before rising to 6.1% in 2017.

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