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House Dems push back against GOP ObamaCare lawsuit

House Dems push back against GOP ObamaCare lawsuit
© Greg Nash

House Democrats on Monday accused Republicans of an “end-run around the law” as they pushed back on a GOP lawsuit against ObamaCare. 

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House Democrats filed a brief in federal court defending the Obama administration in a lawsuit, House v. Burwell, brought by House Republicans. The GOP argues that certain ObamaCare payments are being made unconstitutionally because Congress has not appropriated the money.  

The Democrats counter that Republicans are trying to involve the courts in a political dispute in an unprecedented way. 

“Instead of working with Democrats to make health care more affordable, Republicans are trying an end-run around the law and the legislative process that would hurl insurance markets into chaos, and destroy the affordable health coverage of millions of Americans,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in a statement accompanying the legal brief. 

A district judge ruled for House Republicans on the case in May, but that decision is now headed to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

Both the House Democrats and the Obama administration, in a brief filed last week, argue that the appeals court should simply dismiss the case because the House lacks the legal standing to sue in the first place. They say it would be unprecedented for courts to get involved in spending disputes between Congress and the president.

House Democrats’ brief argues that “it would not only be contrary to established Supreme Court precedent for the courts to wade into inter-branch disputes such as this one, but also unnecessary and destabilizing to the separation of powers among the three branches.”

At issue are ObamaCare payments known as “cost-sharing reductions,” which help low-income ObamaCare enrollees afford their deductibles. They are in addition to better-known tax credits that help people afford insurance premiums. 

The text of the law does not specifically provide an appropriation for the cost-sharing reductions, prompting the GOP complaint. Democrats, however, argue that the tax credit appropriation also provides authority for the cost-sharing reductions because the two programs are interwoven. 

The district judge, Rosemary Collyer, an appointee of President George W. Bush, rejected that argument and ruled for the GOP.

The case is generally not seen as having as high of stakes as previous court cases challenging more central aspects of the law. Still, a Republican victory could add additional turmoil and uncertainty to the law’s marketplaces. 

Insurers are required to give the discounts to low-income enrollees no matter what, so if the payments were cut off, insurers would just no longer get reimbursed, and could have to hike premiums to make up the difference. 

House Republicans have until Nov. 23 to file their brief.