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Trump will urge Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare

POLITICO logo POLITICO 5/6/2020 By Susannah Luthi
a large white building: The Supreme Court in Washington. © Mark Tenally/AP Photo The Supreme Court in Washington.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his administration will urge the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, maintaining its all-out legal assault on the health care law amid a pandemic that will drive millions of more Americans to depend on its coverage.

The administration appears to be doubling down on its legal strategy, even after Attorney General Bill Barr this week warned top Trump officials about the political ramifications of undermining the health care safety net during the coronavirus emergency.

Democrats two years ago took back the House of Representatives and statehouses across the country by promising to defend Obamacare, in particular its insurance protections that prevent sick people from being denied coverage or charged more because of a health condition. The issue may prove to be even more salient in November amid the Covid-19 outbreak that health experts believe will persist through the fall.

The Justice Department has a Wednesday deadline to file a brief in a case brought by Republican-led states. Trump told reporters Wednesday afternoon his administration will stand by its position.

“Obamacare is a disaster, but we’ve made it barely acceptable,” Trump said.

DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Supreme Court later this fall will hear a lawsuit from GOP-led states who argue that the Affordable Care Act was rendered invalid after Congress eliminated its tax penalty for not having health insurance. A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general and the Democratic-led House of Representatives are defending the law in court.

The Trump administration had previously shifted its legal position in this case, but appears to have decided against doing so again. DOJ originally argued the courts should throw out just Obamacare's preexisting condition protections, before last year urging that the entire law be struck down.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case during its next term starting in October, but it hasn't scheduled arguments yet. A decision is unlikely before the Nov. 3 election. The court has previously upheld Obamacare in two major challenges that threatened the law's survival.

About 20 million people have been covered by Obamacare, and the law is expected to provide a major safety net during the economic freefall brought on by the coronavirus. Millions more are expected to join the Medicaid rolls, especially in states that joined Obamacare’s expansion to poor adults. Others who lost workplace health insurance can sign up on the law’s health insurance marketplaces, though the Trump administration isn’t doing much to advertise coverage options.

Many Democrats are eager to again run on their defense of Obamacare this fall. That includes presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has advocated for building on the health care law rather than pursuing a comprehensive progressive overhaul like “Medicare for All.”

Top Trump officials have been split on the legal strategy in the Obamacare lawsuit. Barr and Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, both opposed a broader attack on the law, but White House officials have been more supportive, seeing it as a chance to fulfill Trump’s pledge to repeal Obamacare. Barr, in a Monday meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials, made an eleventh-hour plea for the administration to soften its legal stance ahead of the briefing deadline.

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