6:00: Morning News

Democratic senators — including Manchin — submit brief to US Supreme Court backing ‘Obamacare’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus is among the groups who filed a brief with the Supreme Court on Wednesday supporting the effort to protect former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Forty-seven senators — including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — waded into the legal challenge surrounding the individual mandate of “Obamacare” and the statute’s constitutionality.

Texas and 17 other states argue “Obamacare” is no longer constitutional in light of Congress zeroing out the penalty for not purchasing health insurance in the 2017 tax law. The Justice Department is backing the argument.

West Virginia is among the states aligned with Texas.

The senators said Wednesday the individual mandate can be separated from the rest of the Affordable Care Act as lawmakers did not intend to discard the health care law through the tax legislation.

“Congress’s intent is manifest both in its action — a targeted amendment — and in the ways that a sweeping invalidation of the ACA would undermine the very benefits that Congress aimed to achieve,” the legislators stated.

“Accordingly, there is no need to conduct a counterfactual inquiry about whether Congress would have intended the rest of the ACA to remain in place if Section 5000A were deemed unconstitutional. Congress’s own action demonstrates that it believed Section 5000A was dispensable — and so entirely severable.”

The lawmakers also noted “Obamacare” continues to function without a financial punishment noting people who have relied on the law for insurance coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Indeed, eleven states that run their own health care exchanges under the ACA recently expanded enrollment periods so that more individuals can obtain insurance, if they so choose,” the lawmakers said.

California is leading the Democratic state coalition, and the U.S. House of Representatives supports the effort. Both groups filed opening briefs last week.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December struck down the individual mandate but left the constitutionality of the rest of “Obamacare” to a federal district court that previously threw out the entire law.

If justices determine “Obamacare” is unconstitutional, the future of several provisions — such as protections for covering pre-existing conditions and states’ expansion of Medicaid — would be uncertain. A 2018 West Virginia University report notes 719,000 non-elderly West Virginians have a pre-existing condition. More than 162,000 people are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program because of expansion.

Multiple organizations, including the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and AARP, filed briefs Wednesday supporting the petitioners. The West Virginia Hospital Association is attached to a brief with 35 other state hospital groups asking justices to reverse the appellate court’s decision.

“Both courts failed to recognize that the ACA’s delivery reforms have transformed the delivery of health care in the United States by providing more integrated, cost-effective care, while maintaining quality,” the hospital organizations said.

“And because there is no basis for concluding that Congress intended those provisions — which were enacted in separate titles and function independently of the ACA’s insurance-related provisions — to be inseverable, they, along with the other remaining provisions, should be left intact regardless of how the Court rules on the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in its next term which begins in October.

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