Democrats press Trump official for answers on ObamaCare replacement plan

Greg Nash

Democrats are seething at President Trump’s top health official Thursday for not having a backup plan in case the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is overturned in a pending lawsuit supported by the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told senators during a hearing Thursday a plan is not needed until the “final judgment” is made in the lawsuit. 

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for. If you have a better idea show us, but I have yet to see one plan that the administration has put forward,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told Azar during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the HHS budget request. 

“We would wait until there’s a final judgment in the final court of authority — in this case, it would obviously be the Supreme Court,” Azar responded.

The DOJ has refused to defend the ACA against a lawsuit, brought by attorneys general in Texas and other Republican-led states, that seeks to overturn the law that expanded health care to 20 million Americans.

A district court judge sided with the plaintiffs in 2018, ruling ObamaCare cannot stand without the individual mandate penalty, which was repealed by a tax-reform law passed by Congress in 2017.

Democratic-led states had won the right to defend the ACA in the litigation and appealed that ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed the individual mandate was now unconstitutional but sent the case back to the lower court to determine which parts of the law could stand.

Azar’s comments Thursday drew the ire of Democrats who argue the administration should be prepared in the event that the Supreme Court overturns the entirety of the ACA. 

Azar has maintained that the law would not be overturned immediately following a decision and there would be time to develop a replacement that would protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

“These are hypotheticals at this point. We are faithfully administering the ACA now,” he said Thursday. 

Menendez shot back: “These are hypotheticals we don’t play with.” 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who also asked Azar about the lawsuit, rejected the idea that a replacement isn’t needed now. 

“Don’t try to walk around it somehow by saying ‘this is going to be prolonged so we don’t care, it doesn’t really matter right now.’ It does matter. That’s what this administration values, and it sets it out and the American public needs to know that so please don’t start with that,” she said. 

The Supreme Court is still weighing whether to take up the case and on what schedule. Republican-led states and the administration say they should let the case play out in the lower courts first. But Democratic-led states have asked the Supreme Court to take up the case quickly.

Tags Bob Menendez Catherine Cortez Masto Donald Trump

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