Democratic-led states, House seek high court review on Obamacare

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(Bloomberg)—Democratic-led states and the U.S. House asked the Supreme Court to schedule fast-track review of the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, saying legal uncertainty is threatening the nation’s healthcare system.

In two appeals last week, lawmakers and state officials urged the high court to issue a definitive ruling upholding Obamacare during the term that runs through June. A federal appeals court decision last month found a key piece of the original 2010 law unconstitutional and raised questions about the rest of it.

The ruling “cast doubt on the validity of the entire ACA, arguably the most consequential package of legislative reforms of this century,” a California-led group of 20 states and the District of Columbia argued in one appeal. “That uncertainty threatens adverse consequences for patients, providers, and insurers nationwide.”

The request could be a long-shot given the Supreme Court’s calendar and its already-packed docket. The court has accepted cases involving abortion, guns, LGBT discrimination, the DACA deferred-deportation program, and subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial information. All are scheduled to be decided by late June.

The December 18 appeals court ruling threw out a provision that, as originally crafted, required people to acquire health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The Supreme Court upheld that so-called individual mandate in 2012, with Chief Justice John Roberts saying it was a legitimate use of Congress’s taxing power.

After Republicans took control of Congress and the White House, they eliminated the tax penalty in 2017, leaving the mandate without any practical consequences. Now a group of mostly GOP-led states and the Trump administration are trying to use that change to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, including provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions and expand the Medicaid insurance program for the poor.

The New Orleans-based appeals court didn’t decide whether the rest of the law could stand, instead returning the case to a federal trial judge for closer scrutiny. The new Supreme Court appeals attempt to bypass that process, arguing that the nation’s health care system is too important to allow continued uncertainty.

The states and House say the court should order expedited briefing and either hear the case during its last scheduled argument week in late April, or take the highly unusual step of adding a special argument in May.

The cases are California v. Texas, 19-840, and U.S. House of Representatives v. Texas, 19-841.

Bloomberg News