Biden administration asks Supreme Court to uphold Affordable Care Act, reversing Trump argument
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The Biden administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act, a reversal from the previous position held by the Trump administration that the healthcare law should be struck down.
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"Following the change in Administration, the Department of Justice has reconsidered the government’s position in these cases," Department of Justice Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the nation's highest court in a letter Wednesday. "The purpose of this letter is to notify the Court that the United States no longer adheres to the conclusions in the previously filed brief of the federal respondents."
After reconsidering the issue, the federal government said it now maintains that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.
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The letter comes after justices heard oral argument in the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10.
The case, California v. Texas, No. 19-840, which was brought by Republican officials backed by the Trump administration, argues that the ACA’s mandate requiring health insurance coverage became unconstitutional after Congress eliminated the penalty in 2017 because it could no longer be justified as a tax. The challengers went on to argue that without the mandate, the entire law must fall.
That argument came after a 2012 ruling by the court which rejected a challenge to the mandate's constitutionality by a vote of 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and four of the court's then liberal justices concluding that it imposed a lawful tax on individuals who do not buy health insurance.
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Kneeler argued that, rather than imposing a new burden on covered individuals, Congress' amendment to the ACA "preserved the choice between lawful options and simply eliminated any financial or negative legal consequence from choosing not to enroll in health coverage."
Furthermore, Kneeler reasoned that, even if the court disagrees, the individual mandate is "severable from the remainder of the ACA," allowing the rest of the law to remain intact.
Since its enactment in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has created protections for those with preexisting conditions, allowed children to stay on their parents' insurance plan until age 26 and has provided coverage to more than 20 million Americans.
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The letter to the Supreme Court comes after President Biden signed an executive order last month that will create a special three-month enrollment period on HealthCare.gov from Feb. 15 to May 15 to make it easier for the uninsured to obtain health coverage through ObamaCare during the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic has infected more than 27.2 million Americans and killed over 471,000 people in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Under current law, people who lose their job and employer-based insurance qualify for a special enrollment period through ObamaCare but must provide proof that they lost their coverage. By establishing a special enrollment period, the White House is allowing people who chose not to buy health insurance this year but want it now would have been eligible to participate.
Biden also said he would direct federal agencies to reconsider rules and other policies that may undermine the Affordable Care Act and request a review of policies that may reduce enrollment in Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for low-income Americans, such as work requirements for recipients.
During the election, Biden laid out a plan to expand the ACA by adding a public option that's open to all Americans but preserves the option for individuals to keep their private insurance. He has also pledged to lower the age of eligibility for Medicare, the federal program for people over the age of 65, to 60, with an option for individuals between the ages of 60-64 to keep their coverage.
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While largely symbolic, the administration's move is not expected to end the case, with a decision expected by June.
Because oral arguments had already taken place three months ago and “because other parties have already fully briefed both sides of the questions presented,” the government is not asking the court to order additional briefing in the case.
Fox Business' Megan Henney contributed to this report
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