Collins, Manchin Urge DOJ to Defend Protections for Pre-Existing Conditions

133 million Americans—including 590,000 Mainers & 800,000 West Virginians—are living with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease

WASHINGTON, D.C.— As part of their ongoing effort to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr today, urging him to reverse the Department of Justice’s decision not to defend critical consumer protections that are relied upon by millions of Americans. 

 

The letter is a follow-up to a letter sent by Senator Collins on April 1st.

 

“We are writing to express our grave concern over the DOJ’s recent decision to not only continue its refusal to defend protections for people with pre-existing conditions in the ongoing litigation challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but also to argue in favor of repealing the entire ACA,” Senators Collins and Manchin wrote.  “Overturning the ACA will put millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of West Virginians and Mainers at risk of losing their health insurance, including thousands of our constituents who gained health insurance through the Medicaid expansion, and thousands more who gained insurance through the ACA exchanges. With so much at stake, we urge you and the Administration to reconsider this position and to defend the consumer protections for seniors, young adults, women, children, and working families.”

 

“The ACA is quite simply the law of the land, and it is the Administration’s and your Department’s duty to defend it,” the Senators continued.  “Congress can work together to fix legislatively the parts of the law that aren’t working, but we must not let this flawed court decision stand and devastate millions of seniors, young adults, women, children, and working families. We urge the Administration and the Department of Justice to reconsider the decision not to defend the critical consumer protections that have provided healthcare to millions of Americans around the country.”

 

Click HERE for a signed PDF of the letter.  The full letter is below.

 

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Dear Attorney General Barr:

 

We are writing to express our grave concern over the Department of Justice’s recent decision to not only continue its refusal to defend protections for people with pre-existing conditions in the ongoing litigation challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but also to argue in favor of repealing the entire ACA. Overturning the ACA will put millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of West Virginians and Mainers at risk of losing their health insurance, including thousands of our constituents who gained health insurance through the Medicaid expansion, and thousands more who gained insurance through the ACA exchanges. With so much at stake, we urge you and the Administration to reconsider this position and to defend the consumer protections for seniors, young adults, women, children, and working families.

 

In a brief filed on March 25, 2019, the Department of Justice argued that the Texas federal district court’s decision should be affirmed and the entire ACA invalidated. The court decision, by Texas federal Judge Reed O’Connor, concluded that the individual mandate is no longer constitutional after Congress reduced the individual mandate penalty to zero. After determining that the individual mandate is “essential” to and inseverable from the law, Judge O’Connor found that the entire ACA is invalid. Respectfully, we believe that decision is not only legally flawed, but it is contrary to Congress’s intentions, a point Senator Collins stressed in her letter to you on April 1.

 

Judge O’Connor determined that the ACA is invalid because the “2017 Congress had no intent with respect to the Individual Mandate’s severability.” The 2010 Congress that passed the ACA may have considered the individual mandate penalty to be essential. But, the 2017 Congress that zeroed out the penalty obviously did not. Specifically, by reducing the individual mandate penalty to zero but keeping the rest of the law, the 2017 Congress illustrated its belief that the financial penalty was not an essential provision of the ACA. If Congress intended to eliminate these consumer protections along with the individual mandate penalty, it could have done so.

 

Furthermore, there are approximately 133 million Americans, 800,000 West Virginians and 590,000 Mainers, living with pre-existing conditions. If Judge O’Connor’s decision stands, in some instances insurance providers could deny coverage based on one of the conditions whether its acne, pregnancy, or heart disease. The termination of critical anti-discriminatory protections could leave numerous Americans without health insurance and without access to necessary and, in many cases, lifesaving medical treatment. It is also alarming that in the midst of the devastating opioid epidemic, millions of Americans suffering from substance use disorders would lose access to the treatment that they need to recover. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a matter of life and death to many of these Americans.

 

The Constitution requires the Executive Branch to “take care that laws are faithfully executed.” The Office of Attorney General’s has understood that the “Attorney general has a duty to defend and enforce both the Acts of Congress and the Constitution; when there is a conflict between the requirements of the one and the requirements of the other, it is almost always the case that he can best discharge the responsibilities of his office by defending and enforcing Acts of Congress.” Such a longstanding policy illustrates the fundamental structure of our government: Congress makes the laws and the Executive Branch enforces them. The ACA is quite simply the law of the land, and it is the Administration’s and your Department’s duty to defend it.

 

Congress can work together to fix legislatively the parts of the law that aren’t working, but we must not let this flawed court decision stand and devastate millions of seniors, young adults, women, children, and working families. We urge the Administration and the Department of Justice to reconsider the decision not to defend the critical consumer protections that have provided healthcare to millions of Americans around the country. 

 

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