Trump Administration using the courts to kill healthcare for millions
Unable to kill the ACA legislatively, Trump is trying now to do it in the courts. | Evan Vucci/AP

NEW ORLEANS —The GOP couldn’t kill the entire Affordable Care Act when they controlled Congress, though they tried at least 62 times. They can’t completely kill it by dismantling it administratively piece by piece. So now the Trump administration wants the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, one of the most conservative courts in the country, to kill the ACA for them.

In a brief filed before the judges on April 30, Trump’s Justice Department argued the entire law is unconstitutional because Congress, in Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, repealed the $700-per-person yearly tax imposed on people who don’t have health insurance.

The ACA is too interwoven with the tax, Trump’s Justice Department argued. Trump’s DOJ is now headed by Attorney General William Barr, who as a private attorney tried to kill the ACA, too. When the tax was yanked, the whole law must constitutionally fall, the Justice Department, speaking for Trump and the GOP, contends.

And that’s different from the position DOJ took just over six months ago when GOP-named U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in rural red state Texas ruled the whole law constitutionally out of bounds for the same tax reason. But O’Connor kept it in place, pending appeals to higher courts.

Death of the ACA would impact virtually the entire country – both people with health insurance and people without it.

The ACA forces insurers to cover 52 million people with “pre-existing conditions.” It bans denial of coverage due to pregnancy. It expanded Medicaid, at least in “blue states” to millions more, and it cut the number of uninsured nationwide in half since it passed in 2009-10. It also lets young people stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

All that protection and more would be gone if the ACA goes, as Trump and the GOP want. And they deliberately don’t have anything to replace it, throwing workers, families, individuals, unions, businesses – indeed, the entire nation — back onto the mercies, or lack of them, of health insurers.

The ACA also has GOP ancestry. The right-wing Heritage Foundation dreamed up the tax. And then-Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., working with the Democratic state legislature, enacted virtually the exact same law.

That didn’t stop GOP hate. As soon as President Obama took office and started pushing the ACA, Republicans fell into unquestioning line against it.

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard told his union’s legislative conference several years ago there’s only one reason for such hate of Obama, the ACA and everything else the president championed: Obama is black. Delegates cheered.

The ACA passed on completely party-line votes, followed by those 62+ unsuccessful GOP repeal attempts in subsequent years and Trump’s scheme to administratively dismantle it, piece by piece.

But that’s not good enough for Trump, Barr or the 20-plus GOP red states that started the suit in the Texas court to overturn it. Led by deep-red Texas, those states want the judges in New Orleans to dump the ACA immediately and for good.

“On the merits, the district court correctly ruled that, in the absence of any revenue-raising provision, the individual mandate can no longer properly be upheld as a tax and is therefore unconstitutional,” Trump’s Justice Department now says.

“Much of the ACA, especially its guaranteed coverage of certain procedures and its community-rating provisions,” depended on the mandate.

“The rest of the ACA involves numerous other interdependent provisions likewise designed to work together to expand health-insurance coverage and to shift healthcare costs. The district court thus properly concluded the ACA is invalid in its entirety.”

Blue states, led by California, plus the Democratic-run U.S. House, are demanding the New Orleans appellate court judges uphold the ACA and toss the Texas judge’s ruling.

Speaking for the blue states, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said eliminating the $700-per-person tax on people who don’t buy insurance still leaves the individual mandate to buy insurance in place. And the framework for the tax stays in place, too, even if it isn’t levied, he said.

“Our legal coalition will vigorously defend the law and the Americans President Trump has abandoned,” Becerra said in a statement.

The ACA was the first Trump scheme Becerra and his allies challenged the same week. On May 2, Becerra, other attorneys general and more than 100 lawmakers sued to overturn the ersatz “national emergency” Trump uses to justify building his racist Mexican Wall.

“We’ve just filed our response to President Trump’s dishonest defense of his illegal national emergency declaration,” Becerra tweeted. “We have been joined in this fight by 100+ bipartisan members of Congress, representing 36 states. No one is above the law.” “@realDonaldTrump, your power is not unlimited,” another Becerra tweet said.

Ironically, the latest Trump threat to the ACA came the same day the Democratic-run House Rules Committee held the first-ever congressional hearing on single-payer government-run Medicare For All. Progressives, led by National Nurses United and at least 15 other unions, call the ACA flawed because it still leaves greedy profiteers in charge.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.