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Barr's Justice Dept asks court to tear down the ACA in its entirety

Around the same time Bill Barr was making a mockery of the rule of law, his Justice Department asked a court to tear down the existing US health care system.
A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)
A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room.

Around the same time Attorney General Bill Barr was making a mockery of the rule of law with testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr's Justice Department was filing a court brief that may prove to be every bit as important to millions of American families.

The Trump administration formally declared its opposition to the entire Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, arguing in a federal appeals court filing that the signature Obama-era legislation was unconstitutional and should be struck down. [...]In filing the brief, the administration abandoned an earlier position -- that some portions of the law, including the provision allowing states to expand their Medicaid programs, should stand. The switch, which the administration disclosed in late March, has confounded many people in Washington, even within the Republican Party, who came to realize that health insurance and a commitment to protecting the A.C.A. were among the main issues that propelled Democrats to a majority in the House of Representatives last fall.

The filing from Trump's Justice Department has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer: it asks the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to tear down "Obamacare" altogether, stripping tens of millions of Americans of their health coverage, and eliminating important health care benefits for millions more.

The evolution of the Republican administration's position has been extraordinary in its own right. As regular readers know, shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, Donald Trump tried to tell voters that when it came to health care benefits, Republicans were actually more liberal than Democrats. “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions,” the president tweeted two weeks before Election Day. “Democrats will not!”

The claim was hopelessly bonkers for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that the Trump administration, just four months earlier, had filed a brief with a federal court in Texas, urging it to strip Americans with pre-existing conditions of their protections under the Affordable Care Act.

In March, Trump's Justice Department took the Republican crusade against the ACA further, telling the appellate bench that the administration wants the courts to tear down the health care reform law in its entirety.

Yesterday, DOJ attorneys fleshed out that argument in a longer legal brief filed with the 5th Circuit.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the Trump administration’s position, as of yesterday, is that the courts should do what Congress did not: destroy the existing health care system.

All of this stems from a ridiculous court ruling issued shortly before Christmas, when a Republican jurist endorsed a deeply strange Republican lawsuit. Even some conservative legal experts, who’ve been deeply critical of the ACA, criticized the decision, with one calling it “embarrassingly bad.”

In that case, 20 far-right state attorneys general asked the court to invalidate protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but the judge decided to go further, rejecting the entire Affordable Care Act. The law remains intact, however, at least for now, as the appeals process moves forward.

Yesterday, Trump’s Justice Department endorsed the lower court’s ruling and asked an appeals court to endorse it.

If that position prevails, literally every benefit from the nine-year-old reform law would evaporate, and families that have come to rely on the ACA would be left with nothing.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump has spent the last few months arguing that his Republican Party would soon be seen as "the party of health care."