(Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Obamacare law introduced by his predecessor that added millions to the healthcare safety net, seeking to scrap coverage during the novel coronavirus crisis.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco, in a filing late on Thursday, argued for the administration that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - one of former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature achievements - became invalid after the previous, Republican-led Congress axed parts of it.
“No further analysis is necessary; once the individual mandate and the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions are invalidated, the remainder of the ACA cannot survive,” Francisco wrote, adding that lawmakers in 2017 did not show that they intended for the ACA to continue “in the absence of these three integral provisions.”
The move is sure to ignite further political controversy and elevate healthcare as a major election issue. Trump is seeking re-election in November against Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, who has vowed to protect health insurance coverage for Americans under the law.
The Trump administration’s filing came the same day the United States set a new record for a one-day increase in cases of the fatal and highly contagious coronavirus. The disease has killed thousands of Americans and forced millions to lose their jobs, including any employer-based health benefits they may have had.
Democrats, who had asked the top court separately to declare that ACA did not violate the U.S. Constitution and have proposed to shore up the law’s provisions, blasted the move as cruel and immoral, particularly amid the outbreak.
“President Trump and the Republicans’ campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty,” Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Biden, in a campaign speech on Thursday, warned that without the law insurers could consider COVID-19 complications a pre-existing condition and refuse to pay for any needed care.
“It’s cruel, it’s heartless, it’s callous,” he said.
The United States is the nation worst-hit by COVID-19, with more than 124,000 deaths and 2.4 million infections.
Passed in 2010, the ACA helped about 20 million Americans obtain medical insurance either through government programs or through policies from private insurers made available in government-run marketplaces. It also includes some popular provisions such as prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage to Americans with known health conditions.
Republicans view the law as excessive government intrusion into the healthcare market.
Trump has criticized its costs and promised a different plan since his 2016 campaign, although he and his fellow Republicans have yet to propose a formal replacement. He has also said he supports protecting those with pre-existing medical conditions even as his administration has moved to invalidate the law.
“Obamacare has been an unlawful failure and further illustrates the need to focus on patient care,” White House spokesman Judd Deere was quoted as saying by the Washington Post after Thursday’s filing, adding that Congress should “work on a bipartisan basis with the president to provide quality, affordable care.”
Representatives for the White House could not be immediately reached for comment early on Friday.
Texas and 17 other Republican-led states have joined the Trump administration in seeking to challenge the law.
(This story was refiled to fix typo in headline.)
Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Jon Boyle and Chizu Nomiyama