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Democratic states, US House urge Supreme Court to consider lower court ‘Obamacare’ ruling

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Democratic coalition of states and the U.S. House of Representatives are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a recent judicial decision on former President Barack Obama’s health care law that left the statute’s future uncertain.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., filed a brief on Friday asking the nation’s highest court to review the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision before the Supreme Court’s term ends in late June. The House submitted a similar brief.

The appeals court ruled 2-1 last month to strike down the health care law’s individual mandate. Congress zeroed out the penalty for not purchasing health insurance as part of the 2017 tax law.

The appeals court also asked a federal district court that previously struck down the entire law to review the Affordable Care Act and determine if other provisions are unconstitutional.

The state coalition wrote the effects of the appeals court’s decision will be widespread; Americans may not be able to make certain decisions if their insurance coverage is not secure, insurance companies may not invest in providing options on the exchange, and states will have to plan for losing federal subsidies ahead of the law’s possible end.

“By abdicating the responsibility to address severability and instead remanding the case for interminable (and unnecessary) provision-by-provision trench warfare in the district court, the Fifth Circuit has created an intolerable situation,” the state coalition wrote.

Around 20 million Americans could be at risk of losing their health insurance coverage if “Obamacare” and its provisions — including protections for covering pre-existing conditions and allowing states to expand Medicaid — are ruled unconstitutional.

West Virginia expanded Medicaid coverage in 2014; around 160,000 West Virginians are enrolled as of Monday.

In a motion on expediting court actions, the state coalition argued the “lower courts’ actions” have created uncertainty.

“That uncertainty has already led some States to begin planning for the possibility that the entire ACA might be declared invalid, and to examine additional measures that might be necessary to stabilize their healthcare markets in that event,” the group said. “The shadow cast by the decisions below may also negatively affect the health insurance market in future years by, for example, causing insurers to increase premiums or withdraw from the Exchanges altogether.”

The appeals court’s December decision sent the rest of the law back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Judge Reed O’Connor struck down “Obamacare” and its individual mandate in December 2018.

West Virginia is one of 18 Republican states — led by Texas — arguing against “Obamacare.” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey applauded last month’s decision, yet has previously noted his support for maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions and people needing Medicaid.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has criticized Morrisey’s involvement in the lawsuit since the 2018 midterm elections, in which Morrisey challenged Manchin for the seat.

The Department of Justice supports affirming O’Connor’s decision.

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