Justice Department takes aim at heart of health law


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said in a court filing late Thursday that it will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the requirement that people have health insurance and provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions.

The decision, announced in a filing in a federal court in Texas, is a rare departure from the Justice Department’s practice of defending federal laws in court. Texas and other Republican-led states are suing to strike down the entire law because Congress recently repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine. The repeal takes effect next year.

Texas says that without the fine in place the requirement to have health insurance is unconstitutional and that the entire law should be struck down as a result.

The administration said it agrees with Texas that the so-called individual mandate will be unconstitutional without the fine. It also said that provisions shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums and limiting how much insurers can charge older Americans should fall as well.

It said the rest of the law, including Medicaid expansion, can remain in place.

But the major insurance industry trade group said Friday that removing consumer protections for people with health problems and for older adults will harm consumers and create more turmoil in markets that have already seen steep premium increases.

“Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said in a statement. “Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019.”

The lawsuit, filed in February, is in many ways a replay of the politically divided litigation that ended with the Supreme Court upholding the health care overhaul in 2012. In the new suit, California is leading a group of Democrat-led states in defending the law.

The major difference is that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has largely switched sides.

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