U.S. Supreme Court justices appear unlikely to throw out Obamacare

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday signaled they are unlikely to strike down the Obamacare healthcare law in a legal challenge brought by Texas and 17 other Republican-governed states and joined by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Brett Kavanaugh indicated skepticism during two hours of arguments in the case toward the stance by the Republican challengers that the entire law must fall if a single key provision, called the individual mandate, is deemed unconstitutional.

That provision originally required people to obtain insurance or pay a financial penalty. Trump signed a law in 2017 that erased the penalty, a change that Republicans then argued eliminated the constitutional justification for the provision as permissible under the power of Congress to levy taxes.

Roberts asked questions suggesting that because Congress did not repeal the entire law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when it eliminated the penalty, all of Obamacare should not be invalidated due to this one change.

If Roberts and Kavanaugh join the court’s three liberals in the court’s eventual ruling due by the end of June, the bulk of Obamacare would survive.

“It’s hard for you to argue that Congress intended the entire act to fall if the mandate was struck down,” said Roberts, who authored 2012 and 2015 rulings that upheld Obamacare in previous Republican legal challenges.

The case represents the latest Republican legal attack on the 2010 law, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. Republicans also have failed numerous times to repeal Obamacare in Congress, though Trump’s administration has taken steps to hobble the law.

The justices heard arguments by teleconference in an appeal by a coalition of 20 states including Democratic-governed California and New York and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives hoping to preserve Obamacare. The court, with three Trump appointees including Kavanaugh, has a 6-3 conservative majority.

After the arguments, President-elect Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, criticized the “right-wing ideologues” who pursued the “simply cruel and needlessly divisive” litigation.

“This argument will determine whether (the) healthcare coverage of more than 20 million Americans who acquired it under the Affordable Care Act will be ripped away in the middle of the nation’s worst pandemic in a century,” Biden told reporters in Delaware.

Citing a “moral obligation to ensure that here in America healthcare is a right for all and not a privilege for a few,” Biden promised to start building on the Affordable Care Act immediately after succeeding Trump on Jan. 20.

Obamacare expanded public healthcare programs and created marketplaces for private insurance. Without Obamacare, Biden noted, insurers could once again refuse to cover people with any pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, asthma or complications from COVID-19.

Roberts and Kavanaugh appeared to agree that the mandate to obtain insurance can be separated from the rest of the law.

“We ask ourselves whether Congress would want the rest of the law to survive if an unconstitutional provision were severed,” Roberts said.

The fact that Congress in 2017 left the rest of the law intact “seems to be compelling evidence,” Roberts added.

Kavanaugh added that “this is a fairly straightforward case for severability under our precedents, meaning that we would excise the mandate and leave the rest of the act in place.”

LEGAL STANDING

The justices – conservatives and liberals alike – raised questions over whether Texas and the other challengers had the proper legal standing to bring the case, worrying about similar scenarios in which someone might be able to sue over some other government mandate when no penalty exists.

Roberts said such a stance “expands standing dramatically” by enabling people to challenge a whole host of laws without experiencing direct harm.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s most recent appointee, asked skeptical questions about legal standing. Democrats, ahead of Barrett’s Senate confirmation last month, focused their opposition to her appointment on the Obamacare case, fearing she would vote to strike down the law. Her questions did not indicate she would.

Trump’s third appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, asked probing questions on standing, though he sounded skeptical about the individual mandate’s constitutionality.

The 2012 ruling authored by Roberts defined the individual mandate’s financial penalty as a tax, thus finding the law permissible under the Constitution’s provision empowering Congress to levy taxes.

The 2017 Republican-backed change eliminating the penalty meant the individual mandate could no longer be interpreted as a tax provision and was therefore unconstitutional, the Republican challengers argued in their lawsuit filed in 2018.

Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in 2018 ruled that Obamacare was unconstitutional as currently structured following the elimination of the penalty.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year also found the mandate unconstitutional but stopped short of striking down Obamacare. The Democratic-led states and House then appealed to the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear Obamacare challenge

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday is set to hear arguments in a bid by Republican-governed states backed by President Donald Trump’s administration to strike down the Obamacare healthcare law, even as Joe Biden prepares to replace Trump in January.

Key priorities set by the Democratic president-elect included expanding healthcare access and buttressing Obamacare, the 2010 law formally called the Affordable Care Act that Republicans for years have sought to invalidate. The law was the signature domestic policy achievement of former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president.

Although the court now has a 6-3 conservative majority bolstered by the Senate confirmation last month of Trump’s third appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, most legal experts think it would stop short of a seismic ruling striking down the law. The Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 fended off previous Republican challenges to Obamacare.

Biden and other Democrats have criticized Republican efforts to strike down the law in the midst of a deadly coronavirus pandemic.

If Obamacare were to be struck down, up to 20 million Americans could lose their medical insurance and insurers could once again refuse to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. Obamacare expanded public healthcare programs and created marketplaces for private insurance.

“Abolishing the Affordable Care Act would be deeply damaging to the American health care system and public health,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the nonprofit American Public Health Association, said in a statement.

The justices will hear an expanded 80-minute oral argument by teleconference due to the pandemic.

The impetus for the Supreme Court case was a 2018 ruling by a federal judge in Texas that Obamacare as currently structured in light of a key Republican-backed change made by Congress violates the U.S. Constitution and is invalid in its entirety.

The justices in March agreed to hear an appeal filed by a coalition of Democratic-led states and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives defending Obamacare.

They asked the justices to overturn a ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that declared that the law’s “individual mandate” that required people to obtain health insurance ran afoul of the Constitution. Republican states led by Texas and backed by Trump’s administration have asked the justices to throw out the law.

If the individual mandate is struck down “then it necessarily follows that the rest of the ACA must also fall,” Trump administration’s lawyers argued in court papers.

The Supreme Court in 2012 upheld most Obamacare provisions including the individual mandate, which required people to obtain insurance or pay a financial penalty. The court defined this penalty as a tax and thus found the law permissible under the Constitution’s provision empowering Congress to levy taxes.

In 2017, Trump signed a Republican-backed law tax that eliminated the financial penalty under the individual mandate, which gave rise to the Republican lawsuit. The tax law meant the individual mandate could no longer be interpreted as a tax provision and was therefore unlawful, the Republican challengers argued.

Democrats made the Republican threat to Obamacare a central feature of their opposition to Barrett’s confirmation to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett, when she was a law professor, previously indicated she backed the challengers in the two previous Obamacare cases that reached the Supreme Court.

In recent cases with conservative justices in the majority, the court has declined to strike down an entire statute just because one part was unlawful.

“Constitutional litigation is not a game of gotcha against Congress, where litigants can ride a discrete constitutional flaw in a statute to take down the whole, otherwise constitutional statute,” conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump appointee, wrote in a ruling earlier this year.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump’s Supreme Court pick lauded as ‘unashamedly pro-life’ in hearing’s third day

By Lawrence Hurley, Patricia Zengerle and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced fresh questioning at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, with the panel’s Republican chairman lauding her as “unashamedly pro-life” even as Democrats worry that she could vote to overturn the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

Barrett, a conservative federal appellate judge who is the Republican president’s third selection for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body, was in the third day of her four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

“This is history being made folks,” Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the panel, said. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she’s going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting for you.”

“It will be a great signal to all young women who share your view of the world,” Graham added.

Under questioning by Graham, Barrett reiterated her comments from Tuesday that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned.

Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favorite of religious conservatives, told the committee on Tuesday she could set aside her religious beliefs in making judicial decisions.

Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve on the court and the second Republican appointee.

During 11 hours of questioning on Tuesday, she sidestepped questions on contentious social issues and told the committee she had no agenda on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Democrats say Barrett’s confirmation would threaten healthcare for millions of Americans and they have said the Senate should not consider filling the vacancy until after the presidential election.

Barrett, 48, would tilt the court even further to the right, giving conservative justices a 6-3 majority. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, making Barrett’s confirmation a virtual certainty.

Barrett has declined to say whether she would recuse herself from the major Obamacare case to be argued on Nov. 10, in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the law. She said the case centers on a different legal issue than two previous Supreme Court rulings that upheld Obamacare that she has criticized.

In response to Democratic suggestions that she would vote to strike the entire law down if one part is found to be unlawful, Barrett on Wednesday told Graham that when judges address the legal question raised in the case, the “presumption” is that Congress did not intend the whole statute to fall.

Barrett agreed with Graham that if a statute can be saved, it is a judge’s duty to do so. Barrett indicated she was in favor of a broad reading of the “severability doctrine” in which courts assume that when one provision of a law is unlawful, Congress would want the rest of the statute to remain in place.

“I think insofar as it tries to effectuate what Congress would have wanted, it’s the court and Congress working hand in hand,” Barrett said of the doctrine.

Barrett on Tuesday also refused to say whether the 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide was wrongly decided. Barrett deflected Democrats’ questions about whether she would participate in any dispute resulting from the Nov. 3 presidential election, promising only to follow rules giving justices the final say on recusal.

Trump has urged the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Trump has said he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election’s outcome as he faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The hearing is scheduled to end on Thursday with testimony from outside witnesses, with Republicans already preparing for committee vote next week.

Trump nominated Barrett to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The four-day confirmation hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote due by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee says her religious views would not guide decisions

By Lawrence Hurley, Patricia Zengerle and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday began the first of two days of direct questioning from U.S. senators, telling senators that her religious views would not affect her decisions on the bench.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing presents Barrett with a chance to respond to Democratic lawmakers who have been unified in opposing her primarily on what they say would be her role in undermining the Obamacare healthcare law and its protection for patients with pre-existing conditions.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee’s chairman, opened the questioning by asking her about her conservative legal philosophy known as originalism, in which laws and the Constitution are interpreted based on the meaning they had at the time they were enacted.

“That meaning doesn’t change over time and it’s not for me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it,” Barrett said.

Graham asked Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favorite of religious conservatives, whether she could set aside her religious beliefs in making decisions as a justice.

“I can,” Barrett said.

Barrett called the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she served as a clerk two decades ago, as her mentor, but said she would not always rule the same way as him.

“You would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett. That is so because originalists don’t always agree,” she said.

Graham will be followed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat. Barrett sat alone at a table facing the senators.

Barrett was nominated to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 by Trump to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett could be on the Supreme Court in time for the Nov. 10 arguments in a case in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage.

Barrett has criticized a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld the law, popularly known as Obamacare.

Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, leaving Democrats with little to no chance of blocking Barrett’s confirmation.

If confirmed, Barrett, 48, would tilt the Supreme Court further to the right and give conservative justices a 6-3 majority, making even the unexpected victories on which liberals have prevailed in recent years, including abortion and gay rights, rarer still. She is Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Trump’s nomination of Barrett came late in an election cycle when Republican control of both the White House and Senate is at stake. The confirmation hearing format has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the public excluded and some senators participating remotely.

Democrats, including vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, on the first day of the hearing zeroed in on the fate of Obamacare, as Republicans push to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 presidential election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation to a lifetime job on the court.

Republicans have sought to portray Democrats as attacking Barrett, a devout Roman Catholic, on religious grounds, although the Democrats have so far steered clear of doing so.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Harris, fellow Democrats target Trump Supreme Court nominee on Obamacare

By Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic senators including vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Monday painted President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as a threat to the Obamacare healthcare law during a deadly pandemic and denounced the Republican drive to approve her before the Nov. 3 U.S. election.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee began its four-day confirmation hearing for Barrett, Democrats voiced their strong opposition to the nomination even though they have little hope of derailing her nomination in the Republican-led Senate.

Barrett, a conservative appellate court judge nominated to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sat at a table facing the senators wearing a black face mask amid the pandemic as senators made opening statements. Barrett removed the mask when she was sworn in and delivered her own opening statement.

“I believe Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written,” Barrett said, reading from prepared remarks that had been made public on Sunday, with her husband and seven children sitting behind her.

Barrett’s confirmation would give the court a 6-3 conservative majority that could lead to rulings rolling back abortion rights, expanding religious and gun rights, and upholding voting restrictions, among other issues.

But it was the fate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage, that was the focus of Harris and her fellow Democrats. Barrett has criticized a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld Obamacare.

Harris, the running mate of Trump’s Democratic election opponent Joe Biden, called the confirmation process so near the election “illegitimate.”

“I do believe this hearing is a clear attempt to jam through a Supreme Court nominee who will take away healthcare from millions of people during a deadly pandemic that has already killed more than 214,000 Americans,” Harris said, speaking via a video link.

“A clear majority of Americans want whomever wins the election to fill this seat and my Republican colleagues know that. Yet they are deliberately defying the will of the people in their attempt to roll back the rights and protections provided under the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said.

Barrett could be on the Supreme Court in time to participate in a case due to be argued on Nov. 10 in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate Obamacare.

Barrett will face marathon questioning from senators on Tuesday and Wednesday. The hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote by the end of October on her confirmation to a lifetime job on the court. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority so Barrett’s confirmation seems almost certain.

A pivotal Obamacare provision that would be thrown out if the court strikes the law down bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. In the hearing room, Democrats displayed posters of patients who could lose their medical coverage if Obamacare is invalidated, with senators recounting their individual stories.

Repeated Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare in Congress have fallen short, and Republicans have taken the effort to the courts.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said the Democratic focus on healthcare and other policy issues showed they were not contesting Barrett’s qualifications to serve as a justice.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the committee, opened the hearing by saying it would be “a long contentious week” but implored senators to make the proceedings respectful.

“Let’s remember, the world is watching,” Graham added.

“This is probably not about persuading each other, unless something really dramatic happens. All Republicans will vote yes and all Democrats will vote no,” Graham said.

‘MAD RUSH’

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy condemned the Republican “mad rush” to fill the vacancy.

“They see the ability to take the courts from being independent to making them instead an arm of the far right and the Republican Party, with the potential to accomplish in courts what they have failed to accomplish by votes in the halls of Congress. And at the top of the hit list is the Affordable Care Act,” Leahy said.

Graham defended the Republican approach even while acknowledging that four years earlier they had refused to act on Obama’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy because it was an election year, and that no Supreme Court nominee had a confirmation process so close to an election.

The Senate’s Republican leaders rejected Democratic pleas to delay the hearing over COVID-19 concerns.

Due to the pandemic, Harris and some other senators participated remotely. Republican Senator Mike Lee attended in person nine days after revealing he head tested positive for the coronavirus, arriving wearing a light-blue surgical mask. He took off the mask while giving his opening statement.

Barrett is a devout Catholic who has expressed opposition to abortion. Christian conservative activists long have hoped for the court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker said that “Senate Republicans have found a nominee in Judge Barrett who they know will do what they couldn’t do – subvert the will of the American people and overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Republicans sought to portray the Democrats as attacking Barrett on religious grounds, though the Democrats steered clear of doing so. Speaking to reporters in Delaware, Biden said Barrett’s Catholic faith should not be considered during the confirmation process. Biden was the first Catholic U.S. vice president.

“This nominee said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Biden said. “Let’s keep our eye on the ball.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. spending deal would raise tobacco age, deny some of Trump border wall funding

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress would raise the U.S. tobacco purchasing age to 21 and permanently repeal several of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) taxes under a massive government spending bill due to be released later on Monday, congressional sources said.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers hope to pass the $1.4 trillion spending bill before current government funding runs out on Saturday, to avoid a partial government shutdown and head off the kind of messy budget battle that resulted in a record 35-day interruption of government services late last year and early this year.

The legislation, worked out during weeks of negotiations between leading lawmakers and the Trump administration, denies President Donald Trump the spending increase he has sought to build his signature wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Most Democrats and some Republicans support a mix of improved physical barriers at the border, along with a combination of high-tech surveillance equipment and patrols by all-terrain vehicles and even horses.

They have mostly rejected Trump’s calls for at least $24 billion over the long run to build his much-touted wall, which he originally said Mexico would finance. Mexico rejected that idea. The wall’s price tag could escalate as the federal government is forced to acquire private lands for construction.

The crackdown on youth smoking, by changing the minimum age for cigarette and other tobacco purchases to 21 from the current 18, would give the Food and Drug Administration six months to develop regulations. The agency would then have three years to work with states on implementing the change.

The largest expenditures in the bill is for the Department of Defense, which would get a total of $738 billion for this year, $22 billion more than last year. It does not include “mandatory” programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which are funded separately.

The legislation also includes $425 million in additional federal grants to help local governments prepare for the November 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

Some of the money would be used to harden infrastructure against cyber attacks following election meddling by Russia in 2016.

Negotiators settled on $7.6 billion for conducting next year’s census, which is done once every 10 years. That would be $1.4 billion more than Trump proposed.

The bill also allocates $25 million for federal gun violence research, following a decades-long suspension of such funding.

All of the money would fund government programs through Sept. 30, 2020.

The legislation would repeal several taxes originally created to help fund the ACA, popularly known as Obamacare, that had been delayed or were only intermittently in effect.

It calls for a permanent repeal of the so-called “Cadillac tax,” a 40% tax on generous health insurance plans.

It had been intended to encourage corporations to buy lower cost plans for employees but was opposed by many unions that had negotiated their health insurance plans and by businesses who said it was a benefit workers valued. The tax was delayed and never went into effect.

The spending bill would also repeal the 2.3% tax on the sale of medical devices such as catheters and pacemakers. This drew opposition from bipartisan lawmakers who said it hurt innovation at medical device companies.

Another tax to be repealed is an industry-wide health insurance fee of about 2.5% to 3% of premiums collected.

(This version of the story has been refiled to add dropped word “not” in seventh paragraph)

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. government extends deadline to sign up for Obamacare insurance plans

(Reuters) – The U.S. government said on Monday the deadline for signing-up for 2020 insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been extended by three days to Dec. 18 to accommodate those who experienced issues while attempting to enroll.

There were website glitches and call center delays reported on Sunday, the earlier deadline for the 2020 open enrollment, and the extension should help the final enrollment tally, said Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel.

“The post-Thanksgiving ramp-up in sign-ups was better than expected, and the momentum bodes well for the key final surge into the deadline this Sunday, December 15,” Newshel said in a note last week.

Last year, the number of people who signed up for 2019 health plans fell 4% to 8.5 million people from 2018, but saw a typical trend of last-minute shopping in the final week.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services runs enrollment for insurance plans created by the ACA, often called Obamacare, through the online marketplace, HealthCare.gov, for 38 states.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Trump doubles down on Obamacare fight, asks court to overturn law

FILE PHOTO - A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up its attack on the Obamacare health care law, telling a federal appeals court it agrees with a Texas judge’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The Justice Department in a two-sentence letter to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit filed on Monday said it backed the December ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth that found the Affordable Care Act violated the U.S. Constitution because it required people to buy health insurance.

O’Connor ruled on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 20 Republican-led states including Texas, Alabama and Florida, that said a Trump-backed change to the U.S. tax code made the law unconstitutional.

The 2010 law, seen as the signature domestic achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, has been a flash point of American politics since it passed, with Republicans including Trump repeatedly attempting to overturn it.

Democrats made defending the law a powerful messaging tool in the run-up to the November elections when polls showed that eight in 10 Americans wanted to defend the law’s most popular benefits including protections for insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions. The strategy paid off and Democrats won a broad 38-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joseph Hunt and other federal officials wrote in the Monday letter. They said they would file a more extensive legal briefing later.

Obamacare survived a 2012 legal challenge at the Supreme Court when a majority of justices ruled the individual mandate aspect of the program was a tax that Congress had the authority to impose.

In December, O’Connor ruled that after Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax bill passed by Congress last year that eliminated the penalties, the individual mandate could no longer be considered constitutional.

A group of 17 mostly Democratic-led states including California and New York on Monday argued that the law was constitutional.

“The individual plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the resulting law because they suffer no legal harm from the existence of a provision that offers them a lawful choice between buying insurance or doing nothing,” they wrote in court papers.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott)

Health insurers, hospital operators fall as Obamacare ruled unconstitutional

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – Shares of health insurers, hospitals, and healthcare companies fell in early trading on Monday, after a federal judge ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, unconstitutional late last week.

The ACA, introduced by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 to provide affordable healthcare to all Americans, mandates that all individuals have health insurance or pay a tax.

But on Friday, Texas District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed with a coalition of 20 states that a change in tax law last year eliminating a penalty for not having health insurance invalidated the entire Obamacare law.

Centene Corp fell 7.8 percent to $117.5, while Molina Healthcare slumped 10.1 percent to $118.4. The companies are among health insurers with exposure to ACA.

WellCare Health Plans and Anthem Inc declined 4.7 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

“While we are disappointed in the recent Northern District of Texas court’s ACA ruling, we recognize that this is a first step in what will be a lengthy appeals process,” Molina Healthcare said.

“Regardless, the ACA will remain in effect for 2019, and we are optimistic that it will remain in effect thereafter.”

Brokerage Evercore ISI said it expected no immediate impact from the ruling, calling it only a declaratory judgment and not an injunction.

Even in case of an eventual injunction, the defendants would certainly seek and most likely get a stay pending appeal, Evercore said.

Hospitals and healthcare services providers Community Health Systems, Tenet Healthcare Corp and HCA Healthcare Inc fell between 4 percent and 8 percent.

(Reporting by Manogna Maddipatla in Bengaluru)

Twenty states sue federal government, seeking end to Obamacare

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – A coalition of 20 U.S. states sued the federal government on Monday over Obamacare, claiming the law was no longer constitutional after the repeal last year of its requirement that people have health insurance or pay a fine.

Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, which was eliminated as part of the Republican tax law signed by President Donald Trump in December, Obamacare was unlawful.

“The U.S. Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional,” Paxton said in a statement. “With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all,” he said.

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the Trump administration would defend the law in court.

The individual mandate in Obamacare was meant to ensure a viable health insurance market by forcing younger and healthier Americans to buy coverage.

Republicans have opposed the 2010 law formally known as the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic policy achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, since its inception.

Paxton and Schimel, both Republicans, were joined in the lawsuit by 18 states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Utah and West Virginia. It was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas.

(Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington)