Republicans Buy Time In Case That Could Destabilize Obamacare

February 21, 2017 5:00 p.m.

In a sign that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress aren’t prepared to burn down Obamacare just yet, they have jointly asked for a delay in a lawsuit that was originally intended to undermine the Affordable Care Act, back when President Obama would have had to handle the fallout.

Instead, with Republicans in control of all of Washington, the House of Representatives and the Justice Department have asked a federal appeals court to hold off on ruling on the fate of a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act—the subsidies paid to insurance companies to help keep out-of-pocket costs down for low-income patients.

Had the Trump administration dropped its appeal, the multi-billion dollar subsidies could have ceased, triggering chaos in the insurance market and likely pushing several companies to either sharply increase their premiums or cease participating in the exchanges altogether.

In a joint motion (see below) filed Tuesday, the two branches of government asked the court not to rule yet on the legality of these subsidies “to allow time for a resolution that would obviate the need for judicial determination of this appeal, including potential legislative action.” Two months into the new administration, with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, that legislative action on health care remains unclear.

The case (originally styled House v. Burwell but now updated to House v. Price) began in 2014 when House Republicans sued the Obama administration for appropriating money through the Treasury Department to pay for the health insurance subsidies. A federal district court ruled for the House in May, agreeing that it was illegal for the Obama administration to go around Congress to fund the program. But the ruling was put on hold in December to allow the incoming Trump administration to decide whether or not to defend the subsides program.

The new motion seeks to extend the current stay indefinitely to give lawmakers on Capitol Hill time to figure out the future for the entirety of the health care reform law, including the cost-sharing subsidies. Two low-income patients who benefit from the subsidies program attempted to intervene in the case, arguing that the Trump Justice Department can’t be trusted to defend their interests, but the court rejected their petition.

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The House of Representatives could settle the case by voting to appropriate the money for the subsidies themselves, but this is highly uncertain in the current political climate.

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