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House Defends Delaying Major Obamacare Lawsuit

Democrats contend payment doubts create health care industry uncertainty

The House of Representatives defended delaying a lawsuit about the 2010 health care law. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The House of Representatives defended delaying a lawsuit about the 2010 health care law. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House of Representatives in a court filing Tuesday defended a decision earlier in May to delay a pivotal lawsuit over a provision of the 2010 health care law and pushed back on a request from Democratic attorneys general to take over defending the law.

The House and the Trump administration, the other party in the lawsuit, agreed last week to delay the case while they work to reach a settlement and while congressional Republicans continue to push for legislation to repeal and replace the entire 2010 law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). The case centers on so-called cost-sharing reductions in the health care law, which are aimed at helping some low-income Americans pay the co-pays and deductibles that their marketplace insurance requires.

The case has taken a complicated legal path. The House argued initially that then-President Barack Obama had illegally funded the reductions without an appropriation from Congress. A federal judge agreed, but stayed her decision pending an appeal from the Obama administration. President Donald Trump inherited that appeal at his inauguration.

Democrats have blasted the repeated delays, arguing the health industry needs certainty over whether the payments will continue. They have also decried the idea that the new Republican administration should defend the case against the Republican-controlled House.

Earlier this month, a group of Democratic attorneys general from 15 states and Washington, D.C., filed a motion to intervene in the case, arguing that Trump was not appropriately defending the law and the protections they believe it affords for their constituents.

Lawyers for the House defended the delay, arguing in the filing it is “important to afford the parties time to seek a negotiated resolution in light of the new Administration and ongoing legislative efforts.”

They also denied that the Trump administration was the wrong party to defend the 2010 health care law, since it wasn’t clear yet what position the administration would take. The motion to intervene from the attorneys general is therefore “entirely premature,” the lawyers said.

“The Administration could ultimately decide to continue the prosecution of this appeal, or the parties could take legislative action that would eliminate the States’ concerns, or they could reach a negotiated resolution that would moot this appeal entirely,” the lawyers wrote.

Intervening would not eliminate the potential harm that the attorneys general describe, the lawyers said, noting that the Trump administration could stop paying the payments at any time. Indeed, administration officials have not yet committed to making the payments for June.

“Thus, even if the States were correct to fear that the Administration may drop its defense of the cost-sharing payments and thereby ‘subvert the ACA, injuring States,’ that would provide no justification for lifting the abeyance, because there is no outcome of this appeal that could yield a judgment barring the Administration from deciding to stop making cost-sharing payments,” the motion reads.