Law360 (June 24, 2020, 10:02 PM EDT) -- House Democrats unveiled legislation Wednesday to boost major sections of the Affordable Care Act and fiercely contrasted their vision with President Donald Trump's effort to nullify the entire ACA at the U.S. Supreme Court during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act would expand financial help for individual health insurance premiums, let Medicare negotiate drug prices and incentivize 14 holdout states to accept the ACA's Medicaid expansion. The measure is likely to get a vote next week in the Democratic House but probably won't go anywhere in the Republican Senate.
At a Wednesday news briefing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and fellow Democrats used the legislative rollout to castigate the Trump administration, which on Thursday is expected to file an opening brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA.
"Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the brief from the Trump administration as to taking down the Affordable Care Act right in the heart of the time of the pandemic," Pelosi said. "It was wrong any time. Now it's beyond stupid."
The ACA, also known as Obamacare, broadly prohibits higher insurance prices or denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions. Before the pandemic, it was already helping to cover about 20 million Americans via private insurance and Medicaid. A huge increase in unemployment resulting from the coronavirus outbreak has likely driven up ACA enrollment considerably, and Democrats on Wednesday assailed the anti-ACA crusade as increasingly reckless.
"I believe that it is insane that in the middle of a pandemic our health care in our country is under attack," Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., said Wednesday.
"I find it repulsive that during a global pandemic ... the Trump administration is actively trying to tear down the Affordable Care Act," Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a physician, added at Wednesday's briefing.
Republicans led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton launched the case against the ACA in 2018 and later picked up Trump's support; they are also scheduled to submit a Supreme Court brief on Thursday. Because Trump has refused to defend the ACA, Democrats led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra are handling the law's defense with support from House Democrats. Opening briefs in support of the ACA hit the high court's docket last month and also cited the pandemic.
The case contends that the ACA's mandate that individuals maintain health insurance or pay a tax penalty — previously upheld under congressional taxing powers — became unconstitutional when Congress eliminated the penalty, and that the mandate's importance means the entire ACA must also fall. The Supreme Court agreed to resolve the litigation after the Fifth Circuit tried to punt most of the case back to district court.
Wednesday's legislation wouldn't create a public insurance program akin to Medicare to compete with private insurers, making it more modest than the health care plan floated by former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic challenger to Trump. But the legislation still mirrors much of Biden's plan to "build on the Affordable Care Act." In social media posts on Tuesday, Biden delivered his own attacks on the president.
"It's clear Donald Trump will stop at nothing to tear down Obamacare and rip health care away from millions," Biden wrote on Twitter and Facebook.
House Democrats on Wednesday signaled that they view the ACA case as about more than just health care. In multiple comments, they connected the law's consumer protections and health insurance expansion with financial security and racial equality, which in turn are closely linked to the pandemic's economic hardships and its disproportionate death toll among Black Americans.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, said in an email to Law360 that "instead of diving back into partisan games, Democrats should continue to work with the president" on health care policy and on "ensuring our country emerges from this pandemic stronger than ever."
The Supreme Court could hear arguments in the case as early as October.
The cases are California et al. v. Texas et al., case number 19-840, and Texas et al. v. California et al., case number 19-1019, in the Supreme Court of the United States.
--Editing by Jill Coffey.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from a White House spokesperson.
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