USA court to decide future of Obamacare

Latest 'Obamacare' Court Battle Plays out in New Orleans

Latest 'Obamacare' Court Battle Plays out in New Orleans

It was filed after Congress - which didn't repeal the law, despite pressure from President Donald Trump - reduced to zero the unpopular tax imposed on those without insurance.

"You want to strike it down, only in certain states, in its entirety?" But in March, the Justice Department reversed course. "We haven't gone down that road yet".

Attorneys for states hoping to save President Barack Obama's health care law have been hit with some intense and occasionally skeptical questioning from appellate judges in a New Orleans federal court. The panel didn't issue a ruling Tuesday. One of the first acts of our new Majority in January was to allow the House to defend the Affordable Care Act in this case, and House Democrats have passed additional legislation to protect and expand coverage and take steps to lower prescription drug costs.

Access to health care for millions of Americans through the Affordable Care Act hangs on the court's decision.

It was unclear when the three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel would rule in the case, which could be destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.

A California-led coalition of blue states that has stepped in to oppose Texas in the lawsuit quibbles with that question of "severability", arguing that even if one slice of the law must fall as unconstitutional, its other hundreds of provisions - including a host of popular patient protections - should stand.

The hearing sets the stage for a major decision later this summer that could impact health care benefits for millions of Americans and supercharge debate over the law in the heat of the 2020 campaign. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions like cancer and diabetes. The GOP succeeded only in eliminating the penalty later that year, leaving the rest of the ACA intact.

Judge Jennifer Elrod, appointed by President George W. Bush, asked if lawmakers meant to knock down the law when they ended the penalty for not having coverage as part of the 2017 tax overhaul.

It was less clear after the arguments whether the judges also would invalidate the entire health care law, as the Trump administration favors.

Engelhardt voiced frustration that lawmakers haven't resolved the situation on their own. But the administration made waves earlier this year when the Justice Department weighed in on the case, filing a brief saying that it agreed with the district court's ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional.

"There's a political solution here that you, various parties are asking this court to roll up its sleeves and get involved in", Engelhardt said.

Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House, replied to the judge, "You can not and should not draw any meaning from the fact Congress has not done any additional legislating" on the ACA.

Among the arguments by the law's supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren't harmed by a tax that doesn't exist; the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, but the tax's legal structure still exists; and if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that doesn't affect the rest of the law. He indicated the panel may hesitate to eradicate the entire law.

Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins warned the judges that "congressional intent is not monolithic, and it's a very hard and risky game" to try to second-guess what Congress really meant.

"I'm not in a position to psychoanalyze Congress, and this court is not in a position to engage in psychoanalytical tasks", Hawkins said.

Several times, Flentje seemed to nearly beg the judges to resolve the impasse between the White House and Congress, as the Supreme Court did when Obama refused to defend the federal law denying recognition to same-sex marriages.

"The courts then said this was a reasonable way to let the judicial branch have the final say", Flentje said.

About 30 people gathered in front of the U.S. Northern District Court of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, an event organizers said was part of an effort to raise awareness on the implications a repeal could have on Iowans.

For almost two hours in a New Orleans courtroom, the judges - two Republican appointees and one by Democratic President Jimmy Carter - voiced skepticism about arguments that the individual mandate is now essentially just a toothless government suggestion.

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