The Supreme Court heard arguments in the third challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, on Tuesday after Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court, NPR reports.
The Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the ACA’s individual mandate, the penalty imposed on people who decline to get insurance, exceeded Congres's power to regulate interstate commerce but upheld the penalty on the ground that it fell under Congress’ tax powers.
But the Republican-led Congress voted to reduce the penalty to $0 in its 2017 tax bill, prompting Texas and other Republican-led states to sue to overturn the law, arguing that it is no longer constitutional without the individual mandate.
A Texas district judge already ruled to strike down the law but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court by California and other Democratic-led states.
Challengers want entire law struck down:
The Republican argument is that the entire law must be struck down because the individual mandate has been effectively eliminated.
But Donald Verrilli, who is leading the House of Representatives’ defense of the law and previously defended the law as Obama’s solicitor general, said the argument “has kind of a funhouse mirror quality to it.”
"What President Trump said, and what the congressional leadership said, and virtually everybody said when they enacted this amendment in 2017 ... is they were repealing the mandate,” he said. "Congress is allowed to learn from experience. You can't lock the 2017 Congress into the judgment" that it made in 2010. Lawmakers asked for an independent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office in 2017 and "the CBO came back and told Congress that yes, it will continue to function effectively if you zero out the tax,” he said.
All top medical groups oppose repealing ACA:
Virtually all of the leading health groups, including the American Medical Association, hospital associations, and major insurers have asked the Supreme Court to preserve the law.
Verrilli argues that the “easy and obvious answer is to sever the rest of the law and let it continue to operate just as Congress intended in 2017."
"It is Congress' job to make policy, not the court's," he explained, "Congress has repeatedly refused to repeal the law, including in 2017.”
To repeal the law over the mandate, he added, would “throw the health sector into chaos.”
"Tens of millions of [previously uninsured] people who gained coverage under the law's various pathways could lose that coverage overnight," Renuka Tipirneni, a primary care physician and health policy researcher at the University of Michigan, told NPR.