Senate Democrats ask US Justice Department to defend ‘Obamacare’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Department of Justice last week filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing former President Barack Obama’s health care law is unconstitutional.

Senate Democrats — including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — want the department to change its position and defend “Obamacare” before the nation’s highest court.

The Senate Democratic Caucus on Tuesday introduced a resolution asking the Justice Department to support the health care law in court and ensure people who have gained health insurance because of “Obamacare” continue having coverage.

The Justice Department and 18 attorneys general argue the Affordable Care Act is not constitutional because of a reduced individual mandate; Congress approved zeroing out the penalty for not purchasing health insurance in the 2017 tax law. Democratic states and the House of Representatives say the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the law.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is among the officials involved in the lawsuit arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

“Nothing the 2017 Congress did demonstrates it would have intended the rest of the ACA to continue to operate in the absence of these three integral provisions. The entire ACA thus must fall with the individual mandate, though the scope of relief entered in this case should be limited to provisions shown to injure the plaintiffs,” the Justice Department said in its brief.

If the court overturns “Obamacare,” it would mean an end to ensuring coverage of pre-existing conditions, state Medicaid expansion efforts and funding states receive for health care.

An estimated 718,000 non-elderly West Virginians have a pre-existing condition. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources in May reported more than 162,000 people are enrolled in Medicaid through the related expansion.

The legislators argue a decision striking down the law would be tremendous, noting the coronavirus pandemic increases the risks of “Obamacare” ending.

“I hope the DOJ and Republican Attorneys General will stop these continuous attacks on West Virginian’s healthcare and realize that while the ACA is nowhere near perfect, we have to work to fix the system we have instead of throwing millions off of their coverage in the middle of a pandemic,” Manchin said in a statement.

Senate Democrats previously attempted to get the Senate Legal Counsel involved in the legal challenge.

The Supreme Court’s proceedings come after a federal appellate court last December struck down the individual mandate but left questions about the constitutionality of the rest of the law to a federal circuit court.

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