Azar: No ‘Obamacare’ replacement until after legal challenge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday there are no plans to propose a replacement to former President Barack Obama’s health care law until after the legal challenge against “Obamacare” ends.

Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee pressed Secretary Alex Azar about the legal challenge, which could end protections for pre-existing conditions and state Medicaid expansion programs.

Azar is a defendant in the lawsuit, in which a coalition of Republican states and the U.S. Department of Justice are fighting for the law to be struck down. The parties argue the law’s individual mandate penalizing people for not purchasing health insurance is unconstitutional.

Congress zeroed out the penalty in the 2017 tax law.

“There is a very long process to go to even see whether the statute is struck down or even in part is struck down by the Supreme Court,” Azar said.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December struck down the individual mandate and ordered a Texas federal court to determine what provisions of “Obamacare” could be separated from the individual mandate.

“This is going to take a considerable time to go back to the 5th Circuit and maybe the Supreme Court eventually,” Azar pointed out.

Secretary Alex Azar

Supreme Court justices rejected a request from Democratic states and the House of Representatives to consider the matter before the court’s current term ends in June. The court will discuss the possibility of taking up the case on Feb. 21.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he does not understand why health officials would wait until after “Obamacare” possibly ends to push a replacement.

“I have yet to see one plan that the administration has put forward over the health care of millions of Americans. What are you waiting for?” he said.

“These are hypotheticals we don’t play with. This is not some abstract consequence if it happens.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said the Trump administration’s support of the lawsuit sends the message it wants to scrap the health care law “no matter how long it takes through that course of litigation.”

“Donald Trump protects pre-existing conditions like sea lions protect salmon on our mighty Columbia River,” Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., argued.

Azar received support from Texas Republican John Cornyn, who mentioned it could take years before the legal challenge concludes.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is among the 18 Republican leaders involved in the lawsuit. Morrisey has told MetroNews he supports protecting pre-existing condition coverage, and backed a bill in the state Legislature to prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

An estimated 719,000 West Virginians have a pre-existing condition, and more than 157, 000 residents are enrolled in the Medicaid expansion.

Democratic state leaders and the House of Representatives submitted briefs to the Supreme Court on Wednesday asking for a review of the case, arguing a delay would jeopardize the nation’s health care system.

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