Protestors demonstrate during a healthcare rally at Thomas Paine Plaza on February 25, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)
“This is the Justice Department laying down and refusing to do their jobs for political reasons.
By Jessica Corbett / 06.08.2018
In the Trump administration’s latest attack on the nation’s sickest and most vulnerable people, the Department of Justice on Thursday announced it will refuse to defend the law governing the nation’s healthcare system from a legal challenge that could enable insurance providers to end coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions or charge them sky-high premiums.
Officials from Texas and 19 other states are arguing that although the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate—which required all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty—because Republican lawmakers successfully killed the mandate with a rider on last year’s tax overhaul, two other ACA provisions that aim to ensure coverage for people with pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional.
In a move that critics say demonstrates how President Donald Trump “is thoroughly politicizing the DOJ and refusing to defend the law of the land,” DOJ attorneys on Thursday filed a legal brief (pdf) that takes the side of the Texas lawsuit, stating that the provisions “must now be struck down as unconstitutional in light of the amendments that were made to it in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).”
We’re leading 16 AGs in court to stop Texas from destroying the #ACA. @HHSGov won’t defend the law of the land and 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions like asthma & cancer:https://t.co/PWbPyVj6Vx #ProtectOurCare pic.twitter.com/hNzKqLPyMz
— Xavier Becerra (@AGBecerra) June 8, 2018
Although attorneys from California and 15 other states are now stepping up to defend the ACA’s remaining provisions, if the court also sides with Texas, as The Huffington Post explains, “insurers would no longer be subject to ‘guaranteed issue’ (a requirement that they sell policies to anybody, regardless of medical status) or ‘community rating’ (a prohibition on charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions).”
Brad Woodhouse, director of the Protect Our Care Campaign, an advocacy group that supports the ACA, told the New York Times that the DOJ’s position threatens to “steal coverage from millions of Americans,” declaring it Trump’s “most dangerous sabotage effort yet.” Though public outrage and protests have thwarted multiple attempts by Republicans to fulfill their dream of an outright repeal of the ACA, Trump has used his executive authority to hack away at the protections and consumer safeguards Obamacare provided.
In a series of tweets, Andy Slavitt, who led the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Obama administration, broke down the Trump administration’s decision and lauded the three DOJ attorneys who reportedly resigned from the case in protest.
Legally, this is the justice department laying down and refusing to do their jobs for political reasons.
Three career Justice Department officials quit the case today, presumably in protest. Amazing.
— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) June 8, 2018
Although legal experts assert that Texas’ constitutional challenge is weaker than those of past court battles over the ACA, the administration’s decision to defy the longstanding DOJ precedent of defending national law elevates the political debate over access to healthcare going into the November midterm elections—which could benefit Democratic candidates campaigning on platforms that aim to make it easier for Americans to secure health insurance.
As Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who works with healthcare advocacy groups, told The Huffington Post: “After years of Republicans trying to repeal the protections stopping insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, now Trump says the protections are unconstitutional. Republicans always had to defend those votes in this election, but now they have to defend his decree too.”
While Media Matters for America’s Simon Maloy noted that the provisions pertaining to pre-existing conditions are immensely popular and called the administration’s position “morally atrocious,” he also pointed to Democrats’ past failures to adequately respond to the GOP’s attacks.
Emphasizing that the situation demonstrates a need for “a loud public outcry,” Slavitt concluded: “People who care about public health don’t do this. People who care about the rule of law don’t do this.”