Obamacare: Another GOP attempt to kill it
“The Affordable Care Act and health insurance for tens of millions of people are suddenly in jeopardy again,” said Jonathan Cohn in HuffingtonPost.com. After the Supreme Court seemed to settle the constitutionality of the ACA—commonly known as Obamacare—in 2012, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has again taken up the question. Last week, the Trump administration–backed lawsuit brought by GOP officials in 20 states “got a credulous, sympathetic-sounding hearing” from two Republican-appointed judges during oral arguments. That’s “hard to fathom.” The lawsuit claims the whole ACA is now void after the Republican-controlled Congress eliminated the penalty on the uninsured in 2017; in ruling the law constitutional, the Supreme Court had said the penalty functioned as a tax, which was within Congress’ powers. Now, in an argument that most legal experts call “positively bonkers,” Republican states insist that without a tax penalty, all of Obamacare should fall.
Winning this lawsuit “would be a disaster for Republicans,” said Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.com. As many as 30 million people might lose their health insurance, and insurers could “once again discriminate against people with chronic conditions.” State budgets would be devastated without federal reimbursement for Medicaid expansion, which would likely force some states to abandon at least some of the 13 million who got coverage that way. The 2020 electoral backlash against the GOP could be massive. And it’s not as if Republicans have advanced any plan for a post-ACA health-care system. Yes, but “political expediency” should not be the determining factor here, said Erin Hawley in TheFederalist.com. This lawsuit is about limiting the power “of the federal government to force people to do something”—in this case, buy health insurance. That’s a fight worth fighting.
That fight is based on a legal argument that is “clearly specious,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. Lawyers for the Republican states claim that if Congress had made the penalty $1 instead of eliminating it, then the ACA would still be constitutional. I’m not a lawyer, but “if a legal argument has absurd implications, it’s an absurd argument.” Let’s hope that the 5th Circuit agrees, and if it doesn’t, that John Roberts’ Supreme Court rides to the rescue of the ACA again. Otherwise, health-care protections that are “now part of the fabric of American life” will be destroyed.