In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has called on state Attorneys General, President Trump, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves to drop a lawsuit to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“At a time of national emergency, which is laying bare the existing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure,” the former VP wrote in a letter, “it is unconscionable that you are continuing to pursue a lawsuit designed to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance and protections under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums due to pre-existing conditions.”
The lawsuit to dismantle Obamacare, as it came to be known, hinges on the individual mandate, a tax levied on people who choose to forego health insurance altogether. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed the penalty to $0, which paved the way for Attorney General Ken Paxton (R-TX) to sue, on the grounds that the healthcare bill is unconstitutional.
In brief, the argument is that if the mandate doesn’t have a penalty, it is no longer a tax, and without a tax, it is unconstitutional. If the individual mandate falls, they argue, the rest of the Affordable Care Act must fall with it.
The legislation, once a hallmark of President Obama’s presidency, turned 10 this week.
Paxton responded to Biden’s letter in a statement shared with Yahoo Finance.
“It’s unfortunate that a former Vice President would choose to play petty politics during a global crisis,” Paxton wrote. “Nevertheless, the facts are that Obamacare resulted in higher costs, fewer choices and a power imbalance between the people and their government. Even the mandate at its core was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court and affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.”
In early March, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act after originally declining to fast track it through the courts. The bill’s defenders include Attorneys General from Democratic states after the Trump administration directed the Justice Department to decline defending it. It is expected that arguments in the case won’t be heard until the fall.
As coronavirus continues to sweep across the United States, there have been calls to provide Americans with paid sick leave and health insurance, to ensure that people infected will seek care.
With over 85,000 positive cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Counter, the pandemic is fueling support for the controversial single-payer healthcare system Medicare for All.
A new poll has found that more than 40% of Americans say the outbreak has made them more likely to support universal health care, compared to 35% who say it hasn’t. A quarter of Republican respondents say that coronavirus has made them more likely to support a measure like Medicare for All.
Despite the broad support, Paxton doesn’t believe it’s a good solution.
“To return to a failed system that forces private citizens to purchase insurance products they don’t want would be detrimental to both our healthcare system and the federalism intended by our Founders,” Paxton said. “That failed and unconstitutional system is not the solution to our present crisis, or the long-term needs of Americans in need of affordable, quality healthcare.”
Paxton is joined in his lawsuit by more than a dozen other Attorneys General, some of whom also want to push forward with the lawsuit.
“Joe Biden is attempting to play politics right in the middle of a pandemic,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “His letter to President Trump on the legal issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act is not only in poor taste but also uniformed. A federal court has already ruled that the ACA is unconstitutional. It is critical the Supreme Court finish its review.”
Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr echoed that sentiment in a statement to Yahoo Finance.
“It’s shameful that the former VP of the United States would play crass politics during a national crisis,” he said. “Republican AGs will continue to uphold the constitution, fight to protect those with pre-existing conditions and ensure better healthcare outcomes for the American people.”
As Republicans continue in their fight to dismantle the Affordable Care Act many Americans are turning to Obamacare as they seek treatment for COVID-19.
Over 10 states and Washington, D.C. including California, New York, Connecticut, Nevada and Minnesota have reopened enrollment to ACA to allow uninsured Americans to access health insurance during the crisis. The enrollment period closed at the end of 2019 and normally “life-changing” events like marriage, or the birth of children are required to enroll outside of these periods.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.