Jessica Seaman, The Denver Post/
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is pushing back on the Trump administration’s embrace of a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act, saying the U.S. Department of Justice must “defend and enforce the law.”
The attorney general’s comments follow a court filing by the agency, which said it supports a ruling by a Texas judge that struck down the federal health care law in its entirety. It is a notable policy shift for the administration, which has previously sought only to knock down individual parts of the law.
“The Department of Justice has the obligation, just as I do with Colorado law, to defend and enforce the law,” Weiser said in an interview, adding that the court’s legal basis for its decision — which the Trump administration is backing — is “implausible.”
On Monday, the Justice Department made its filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. That court is considering an appeal of the earlier ruling, in which a judge said the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional after the 2017 tax reform wiped out the penalty for not having health insurance.
The agency “has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” the Justice Department wrote in its filing.
After the Justice Department’s stance was revealed, President Donald Trump tweeted that “The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’ “
Earlier this year, Weiser joined his peers in Michigan, Nevada and Iowa in a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, making opposing the ruling one of his first moves as attorney general.
“A lot of Coloradans are depending on this law and its protections,” Weiser said, calling the Justice Department’s stance “disheartening.”
As of now, the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, remains in place. But those supporting the law say that if it is overturned it would be “devastating” as it would affect coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansion and the state’s health insurance exchange.
“This would essentially throw our health care system into chaos,” said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid — the government health care program for low-income individuals — to more people. Since then, the state’s uninsured rate for low-income adults has tumbled 29 percentage points.
The federal law also prohibits people from being declined coverage or charged more because they have pre-existing health conditions. There are about 753,000 Coloradans with pre-existing conditions, about 22 percent of the state’s population, according to 2015 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Weiser said he expects the Affordable Care Act case to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he says the fight to protect the law will “prevail.”
“I also believe that the mandate will be upheld and the protections for pre-existing conditions will be upheld,” he said.
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