White House to halt proceedings if Obamacare loses in court
The Trump administration, with no viable plan for replacing critical health benefits for millions of Americans, plans to seek a stay if a federal appeals court invalidates all or part of the Affordable Care Act in the coming weeks - and may try to delay a potential Supreme Court hearing on the matter until after the 2020 presidential election, according to current and former administration officials.
Senior administration officials say they have some ideas for replacing parts of the 2010 health-care law, "principles" crafted in part by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator Seema Verma. However, replacing key benefits - such as guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions - would require the cooperation of Democratic congressional leaders, who have vowed to defend the law and have no interest in a piecemeal replacement plan likely to fall far short of preserving health coverage for about 20 million Americans.
The administration's plan to seek a stay of any court ruling that undermines the law reflects the political disadvantages of its decision to side with GOP-led states seeking to topple the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Even as the Justice Department urges the courts to invalidate the entire ACA, administration officials are promising voters that there will be no immediate impact on their coverage.
"There will be a stay - it's not like the decision is going to come down and the world is going to change," said a senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss White House strategy.
The administration also hopes to slow the case's progress to the Supreme Court, to avoid having its efforts to invalidate the law spotlighted during President Donald Trump's re-election bid, two former administration officials said.
Trump's Justice Department, which declined to comment on the case, is siding with 18 Republican state attorneys general in arguing that the entirety of the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. A trial court judge in Texas ruled last year that the entire law is invalid, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is expected to issue an opinion on the case any day.
If the panel upholds the ACA, the administration could ask the lower court that struck down the law to reconsider the case or it could request a full 5th Circuit hearing - instead of immediately appealing to the Supreme Court.
The appeals court could uphold the entire law, or strike it down. Or, the judges could take a middle path, striking only its mandate to buy health coverage, or both the law's mandate and its requirements for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions without charging them more. Regardless, legal experts say, the law is likely to end up back in front of Supreme Court for a third time.
Conservative allies of the administration also seem to prefer a later time frame - where the Supreme Court would hear oral arguments in fall 2020 and would not issue its decision until after the election.
Tommy Binion, vice president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation, said if the possibility of a SCOTUS decision looms over the election, he thinks Republican messaging about Obamacare "would be buoyed."
"The Democrats are offering Medicare-for-all as their vision for health care," Binion said. "If it looks like the Supreme Court could strike down the ACA, then Republicans will be offering their vision for health care in this country."