Trump’s Justice Department filed a briefing late Thursday stating it will no longer defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA) against state lawsuits, and telling courts to strike down provisions including the individual mandate and protections requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
Removing protections for people with pre-existing conditions has long been a goal of Republicans, and was a part of their failed attempt to repeal the ACA. Every single California Republican, including embattled incumbents like Reps. Steve Knight (Palmdale), Dana Rohrabacher (Costa Mesa), and Mimi Walters (Irvine), voted for that Republican health care repeal plan. While the bill passed the House, it failed to pass the Senate.
Now Trump and the DOJ are seeking to do in court what Republicans failed to do in Congress.
The brief was filed as part of a case brought by 20 Republican-led states, which contends the ACA’s individual mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance is unconstitutional, since it was struck down by Republicans in Congress. By extension, the states argue, the rest of the law should no longer be valid, either.
The DOJ largely agreed with this position in the brief filed on Thursday, saying the consumer protections guaranteed by the ACA should be ruled unconstitutional.
The legal premise has already been called into question, including by officials within the DOJ. Just before the brief was filed Thursday evening, three career DOJ attorneys involved in the case withdrew from it entirely.
What the DOJ is doing — refusing to defend an existing law — is extraordinarily rare.
“The Justice Department has a durable, longstanding, bipartisan commitment to defending the law when non-frivolous arguments can be made in its defense,” says Nicholas Bagley, a law professor and authority on the ACA. “This brief torches that commitment.”
While this case will almost certainly face serious legal challenges, the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress have already made it clear they want to get rid of the ACA and see no problem allowing insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.
Knight, Rohrabacher, Walters, and other Republicans gleefully celebrated their attempt to allow insurers “to charge people significantly more if they had a pre-existing condition like heart disease, cancer, diabetes or arthritis — possibly requiring people to pay thousands of dollars extra every year to remain insured,” according to Politifact.
Walters was so excited about her vote to take away health care protections from millions of Californians that she took a selfie next to Trump in the Rose Garden ceremony celebration for House Republicans who passed their bill.
Now Trump’s DOJ has made its first move to take us back to the days when people could be priced out of the insurance market — or denied coverage entirely — based on current or prior health conditions, including pregnancy and migraines.
Walters has previously stated her unwavering support of the Trump administration. “It is very important that Republicans back the president,” she said. “He’s the president of our party. He stands for what we stand for.”
In this case, Trump stands for ripping away protections for an estimated 52 million American adults under the age of 65 would likely become uninsurable if the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions were rolled back. In California alone, more than 16.5 million people under the age of 65 would become vulnerable.
With so many people being forced out of the insurance market, an estimated 130 million Americans would see their health care costs go up. Republican policies are already responsible for Covered California requesting a double-digit percentage hike in premiums next year.
If the sheer cruelty isn’t bad enough on its own, the Trump administration also added a cynical twist to its plot to strip coverage from millions of Americans. Knowing that the move will be wildly unpopular, the administration doesn’t want the change to go into effect until after 2018 midterms, so Americans won’t be able take out their anger in the voting booth.
Make no mistake: Regardless of how it’s presented or when it would take effect, the Trump administration is taking aim at millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions — and as long as Republicans remain in control of Congress, they’ll be waiting in the wings to assist in the effort.
Dan Desai Martin contributed to this article.