Health chief: Decision not to defend ObamaCare in court not a 'policy' position

Health chief: Decision not to defend ObamaCare in court not a 'policy' position
© Greg Nash

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that the administration's decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act in court is not a "policy position" but a constitutional and legal position.

The Justice Department wrote in a filing last week that it would not defend ObamaCare's protections for people with preexisting conditions, siding in large part with a challenge to the law brought by a coalition of Republican-led states.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The position articulated by the attorney general is a constitutional and legal position, not a policy position," Azar said Tuesday during a Senate hearing on drug prices.

Addressing Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDems push back on using federal funds to arm teachers House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills Chris Pappas wins Democratic House primary in New Hampshire MORE (D-N.H.), who asked about the case, Azar said: "We share the view of working to ensure individuals with preexisting conditions can have access to affordable health insurance. The president has always shared that. We look forward to working with Congress under all circumstances toward achieving that." 

Twenty Republican states sued the Trump administration in February, arguing ObamaCare was unconstitutional because Congress repealed the tax penalty associated with the law's individual mandate.

The administration mostly agreed with the states. While the states asked the judge to overturn ObamaCare in its entirety, the administration said only two provisions protecting people with preexisting conditions needed to be overturned. 

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHillicon Valley: State officials share tech privacy concerns with Sessions | Senator says election security bill won't pass before midterms | Instagram co-founders leave Facebook | Google chief to meet GOP lawmakers over bias claims On The Money: US trade chief casts doubt on Canada joining new deal | House panel invites Watt accuser to testify | Brady defends GOP message on tax cuts State officials press Sessions on tech privacy worries MORE acknowledged that the Justice Department traditionally defends statutes in court, but maintained that this was "a rare case where the proper course is to forgo defense" of the law.

Democrats argue the decision not to defend ObamaCare was a political attack. 

"The Trump administration is putting politics over people, and refusing to defend these very popular provisions in the ACA, the many Americans who need health insurance won't be able to get it, meaning they won't have insurance to help them afford their medications," Hassan said Tuesday. 

"This, Mr. Secretary, is like some kind of sick joke."