The Trump administration filed a late-evening briefing to the United States Supreme Court on Thursday, joining a number of states urging justices to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the signature health care law passed by the Obama administration.
Repeal of the ACA, which is sometimes called “Obamacare,” could cause significant harm to the American people, particularly those who depend on the program to access health insurance through state exchanges. If the law were to end suddenly, it’s estimated that 20 million Americans could lose their health coverage.
The law also protects individuals who would otherwise be denied coverage due to having “preexisting health conditions.” Repealing the law would enable insurance companies to resume denying care to individuals on the basis of previous treatments or ailments.
Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have tried multiple times to end the ACA, stating their intention to “repeal and replace” the law with something of their own design. However, such rhetoric has oftentimes failed to provide Americans with an idea of what would replace the ACA, if it is indeed repealed legislatively or removed judicially. The administration has not offered a potential replacement if the law is viewed as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The 82-page brief submitted by the Trump administration before the midnight deadline formally enjoins the president with a lawsuit set to be heard by the Court in its next term, sometime this fall. The lawsuit was brought forward by Republican officials from Texas and 17 other states.
The legal argument by states and the administration contends that Congress, when it was controlled by Republican lawmakers in 2017, rendered the law unconstitutional after it made the penalty for violating the individual mandate — the tax penalty for not buying insurance — zero dollars.
“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,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco’s brief states on behalf of the administration. “The entire ACA thus must fall with the individual mandate.”
The Supreme Court has already heard two cases on the ACA. On both occasions, the Court declined to take action that would remove the law from the books, although it has altered portions of it.
The move by the administration to challenge the legitimacy of the law comes in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when more than 120,000 Americans have already died and millions have become infected with the disease. It also comes just a few months before the presidential election is set to take place.
Indeed, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the race, former Vice President Joe Biden, spoke out against the current president’s aims to invalidate the law immediately after news broke about it, promising to end his “senseless crusade” toward limiting access to health coverage. Biden also raised the possibility that, if the law is ruled unconstitutional, millions of Americans could be denied coverage due to exposure from or treatment of coronavirus.
“If Donald Trump prevails in court, insurers would be allowed to strip away coverage or jack up premiums — simply because of [a person’s] battle with the coronavirus,” he said.
Siding against the ACA could hurt the president’s reelection chances. The law remains popular across the country, with a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll in May of this year demonstrating 51 percent of Americans giving Obamacare a favorable rating. Only 41 percent said they viewed the law unfavorably. Those numbers have been consistent for the past two years.