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Justice Department move on health law has risks for GOP

AP  |  Washington 

The Trump administration's decision to stop defending in court the Obama health law's popular protections for consumers with pre-existing conditions could prove risky for Republicans in the midterm elections and nudge premiums even higher.

The said in a court filing late Thursday that it will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, beginning with the unpopular requirement that people carry health insurance, but also including widely-supported provisions that guarantee access for people with medical problems and limit what insurers can charge older, sicker adults.

Yesterday, the warned in stark terms of "harm that would come to millions of Americans" if such protections are struck down, causing premiums "to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients."

Weighing in on a challenge to the health law, the argued that legally and practically the popular consumer protections cannot be separated from the unpopular insurance mandate, which has repealed, effective next year.

That argument is likely to be lost on consumers, said Robert Blendon, a polling expert at the particularly in the heat of an election that will determine control of

"The pre-existing condition thing is what the ads will be run on," said Blendon. "Pre-existing conditions have gotten to be an issue that people walking on the streets understand ... it's very emotional." Some Democratic politicians didn't waste much time.

"Democrats will not allow Republicans to get away with quietly trying to strip away pre-existing conditions protections for millions of Americans through a legal backdoor," said Rep Frank Pallone, D-NJ, a for his party on health care.

Senate of urged to reverse the decision.

Administration officials at the departments of Health and Human Services and Treasury would not comment, instead pointing to the filing, which said other parts of the would continue to stand, including its Medicaid expansion covering about 12 million low-income people. HHS and Treasury administer the health law's coverage and subsidies.

Loosening the health law's rules on pre-existing conditions and on charging more to older adults is a key goal for the Partly that's because those consumer protections also raise premiums across the board, as the cost of covering the sick is spread among all customers, including healthier people who previously benefited from lower rates.

Indeed, people who pay the full cost of their individual health plans and aren't eligible for subsidies under the have been clamoring for relief from several years of double-digit premium increases.

Gail Wilensky, who's advised Republicans, said she's not sure about the timing of the administration's action.

"You can definitely assume Democrats will use it to whip up their side," said Wilensky, of under former George HW "For the people not affected by the ACA, or not particularly supportive, I don't know that it will matter much."

The issues in the court case are unlikely to be resolved quickly, but some experts said the added uncertainty could prompt insurers to seek higher premiums in 2019 for health plans sold to individuals.

"Insurance companies hate uncertainty, and when they face uncertainty they tend to increase premiums and hedge their bets," said of the nonpartisan

America's Plans, the group, bemoaned the Justice Department's stance, saying it could upset a market that is becoming "more steady" for most consumers.

"Zeroing out the individual mandate penalty should not result in striking important consumer protections," the group said. It will lead to "renewed uncertainty in the individual market" and a "patchwork of requirements in the states" and make it more challenging to offer coverage next year.

The lawsuit, filed in February by and other GOP-led states, is in many ways a replay of the politically divided litigation that ended with the upholding the health care overhaul in 2012. In this case, is leading a group of Democrat-led states in defending the law.

The Trump administration's stance is a rare departure from the Justice Department's practice of defending federal laws in court.

Jeff Sessions said in a letter to that Trump, who campaigned on repealing the law and nearly did so his first year in office, approved the legal strategy.

Donald Verrilli Jr, Barack Obama's top who defended the law, called the decision "a sad moment." "I find it impossible to believe that the many talented lawyers at the department could not come up with any arguments to defend the ACA's insurance market reforms, which have made such a difference to millions of Americans," Verrilli said.

Shortly before the government's court filing Thursday, three career lawyers at the Justice Department withdrew from the case and were replaced by two political appointees, according to court filings.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, June 09 2018. 21:20 IST