On Thursday evening, in a filing to the Supreme Court, the Trump administration asked the court to terminate the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Asserting that the ACA is illegal, the filing states that “the entire ACA must fall.” This filing was met with immediate criticism from prominent Democrats, as well as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and several Republicans. Healthcare has been a central issue of the 2020 presidential election. However, it is unlikely that the case will be heard by the Supreme Court before the November election.
Although it has been estimated that since being enacted in 2010, the ACA has provided millions of Americans with healthcare, the Trump Administration and Department of Justice contend in their filing that the act is no longer valid because the previous U.S. Congress voted to end the individual mandate. The administration claims this mandate was central to the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions of the ACA.
In the administration’s filing, Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote, “Nothing the 2017 Congress did demonstrates it would have intended the rest of the ACA to continue to operate in the absence of these three integral provisions.” The filing also argues against the ACA’s rules regarding pre-existing conditions. Under the ACA, health insurance cannot be denied to those with pre-existing health conditions.
Prominent Democrats have spoken out since the administration’s late-night filing. In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the filing “an act of unfathomable cruelty” as it coincides with the coronavirus pandemic, and also said that if the court sides with the Trump administration “130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose the ACA’s lifesaving protections and 23 million will lose their health coverage entirely.”
Some Republicans have also questioned the timing and necessity of the filing. Recognizing that overturning the ACA could lead to “political blowback,” some have expressed fear that undermining the ACA during an election year could produce results similar to those seen in 2018 when Democrats regained a majority in the House. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) described the Republican-led argument as “far-fetched,” arguing that Congress would be unlikely to deny healthcare to individuals with pre-existing conditions.
In spite of the controversy generated by the filing, legal experts still view the case as a “long-shot,” according to NBC News. In 2012, the constitutionality of certain key provisions of the ACA was challenged by 26 states in lower courts; however, the Supreme Court upheld these provisions. Five of the justices who were central to the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling remain on the court in 2020.
Sources: NPR 6/26/2020; Supreme Court 6/2020; BBC News 6/26/2020; The Guardian 6/26/2020; Speaker of the House 6/25/2020; NBC News 6/26/2020; The Hill 6/12/2020; AMA Journal of Ethics 2012