Democratic coalition of states asks federal judge to clarify that ACA remains in effect

California and other states defending the Affordable Care Act on Monday asked the federal judge who struck d...

Posted: Dec 18, 2018 9:33 AM
Updated: Dec 18, 2018 9:33 AM

California and other states defending the Affordable Care Act on Monday asked the federal judge who struck down the law last week to issue a new order making clear that the landmark health care reform remains in effect while appeals play out.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has vowed to appeal the ruling, also asked the court to take the legal steps necessary to allow the states to appeal the decision "expeditiously."

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Xavier Becerra

Becerra, who is leading the coalition of states defending the law, made the request of Texas federal District Judge Reed O'Connor, who ruled Friday that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because of changes made in the 2017 tax reform.

In court papers, Becerra said that O'Connor's ruling late Friday had caused confusion among Americans who depend on the law for health coverage.

Becerra noted that the federal government shares the understanding that the Affordable Care Act remains in place for now but that a court order is necessary in order to avoid any potential confusion among the millions of individuals currently depending upon the law.

"We're asking the court to make clear that the ACA is still the law and ensure that all Americans can continue to access affordable healthcare under it," Becerra said in a statement released after the filing. "Today's filing makes clear that California and its partner states will do everything possible to challenge this reckless ruling which threatens the healthcare of Americans from California to Maine, risking the health of seniors, children, workers and young adults in every state in the nation. Our coalition will continue to fight to preserve access to healthcare, which is critical to the strength of our nation."

Becerra asked O'Connor to issue the order by December 21.

The judge sided with 20 Republican state attorneys general and governors, as well as two individuals, who argued that when Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty -- by reducing it to $0 -- it rendered the mandate itself unconstitutional and that the rest of the law therefore cannot stand. The Trump administration is not defending the Affordable Care Act, so Becerra and 16 other Democratic attorneys general have stepped in. O'Connor, however, did not issue an injunction to stop federal and state governments from enforcing the law.

The legal tussle does not impact health coverage under the law, which remains in effect.

The Trump administration has made it clear that it will continue enforcing the law, as much as officials -- including President Donald Trump himself -- would like to see it eradicated.

The Health & Human Services Department issued a statement Monday saying, "The recent U.S. District Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act is not an injunction that halts the enforcement of the law and not a final judgment. Therefore, HHS will continue administering and enforcing all aspects of the ACA as it had before the court issued its decision. This decision does not require that HHS make any changes to any of the ACA programs it administers or its enforcement of any portion of the ACA at this time."

But, it added, "as always, the Trump administration stands ready to work with Congress on policy solutions that will deliver more insurance choices, better healthcare, and lower costs while continuing to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions."

The department also added a red banner to the federal exchange site, healthcare.gov, saying that the court's decision does not affect 2019 enrollment or coverage.

After the judge's ruling, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place."

She added, "The judge's decision vindicates President Trump's position that Obamacare is unconstitutional. Once again, the President calls on Congress to replace Obamacare and act to protect people with preexisting conditions and provide Americans with quality affordable healthcare."

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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