Trump Admin. Tries To Overturn Obamacare As COVID-19 Cases Surge In The U.S.

If the Obama-era act is invalidated, more than 20 million Americans could lose their health coverage.

Getty Images/ Healthcare workers from University of South Florida (USF) Health administer coronavirus testing at the Lee Davis Community Resource Center on June 25

While a global pandemic rages on, Justice Department officials from the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – an Obama-era measure that expanded healthcare coverage for millions of Americans. 

Late on Thursday, Trump-appointed Solicitor General Noel Francisco and other Justice Department officials said in a brief that the act, also known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional because Congress in 2017 eliminated the individual tax penalty for remaining uninsured—so the requirement for people to buy insurance is no longer valid. 

Francisco said in that brief that, once the individual coverage mandate and two key provisions are invalidated, “the remainder of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect.”

The push to repeal ACA right now has received criticism from both parties. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded critically to the recent call to cancel the law, noting it could lead to over 20 million Americans losing their health coverage.

“President Trump and the Republicans’ campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty,” she said.

Joel White, a Republican strategist, recently said in an interview with the New York Times, “Politically, it’s pretty dumb to be talking about how we need to repeal Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic.” 

Senate Health Committee chair Lamar Alexander, a Republican, has also called out the Justice Department’s view on the ACA as “far-fetched” in the past.

The Trump administration’s latest push to end ACA comes during an election year, where he is squaring off against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who was vice president at the time that the ACA was passed in 2010. Biden was caught on mic saying to President Obama that it was a “big f**king deal” at the time, and has vowed to protect health insurance coverage for Americans in 2020. On Thursday, before the late-night brief was filed, Biden called out Trump for his continued attempts at upending the law, saying, "If Donald Trump won't end his senseless crusade against health coverage, I look forward to ending it for him."

The latest attempt to invalidate Obamacare also comes as the country battles increasing coronavirus cases. On Thursday—the same day the brief was filed—the U.S. reported 39,972 new cases, marking a record for the most new cases reported in the country in a single day. According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, the U.S. now has more than 2.4 million cases, which includes more than 120,000 deaths. 

NBC News reported that “the White House has not offered a replacement [health care] proposal if the case succeeds in court.”

The latest brief follows years of efforts from Republicans and the Trump administration to overturn Obamacare. In February 2018, Republican Attorneys General from 20 states filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas claiming the ACA was unconstitutional. After Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections, two states, Wisconsin and Maine, withdrew. The Wisconsin and Maine AGs recently joined the side to defend Obamacare. 

In December 2018, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled that the ACA individual mandate “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power” and that the act’s remaining portions are also void. The Justice Department then said in a 2019 filing with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the judge's ruling should be affirmed and the entire law invalidated. But another 17 states, led by California’s Democratic Attorney General, intervened to defend the law, as did the Democrat-controlled House.

According to a New York Times report, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider three legal questions in the case: whether Texas and two individual plaintiffs who joined the suit have standing, whether Congress rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional in 2017, and if so, whether the rest of the law must also be voided. Arguments for the case most likely won't be heard until the fall, but it is unknown when it will be decided and if the decision will happen before or after the November election.

In two previous challenges to ACA, the Court has left the law largely intact.

Update: This article was updated after publishing to include that the Maine Attorney General has also recently joined the brief to defend the ACA before the Supreme Court.