Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Seeking to Preserve Obamacare

February 5, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Health care premiums

A decision last week by a federal judge in a Maryland lawsuit is expected to influence an appeal by other states that seek to protect their health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

The state of Maryland filed a lawsuit in September to protect its version of the Affordable Care Act as Republicans tried to get rid of the federal law.

They filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Texas, where the law has been disfavored by residents and politicians.

A Texas judge ruled in December that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because the individual mandate penalty that Congress repealed rendered the law ineffective. The ruling is being appealed.

The original legislation approved during the Obama administration imposes a tax penalty on anyone who does not purchase health insurance approved under guidelines of the Act. The penalty is known as the individual mandate.

The Supreme Court initially upheld the mandate under the congressional taxing authority.

However, Congressional Republicans succeeded in 2017 in overriding the Supreme Court decision. They voted to eliminate the mandate beginning this year, which gutted the effectiveness of the entire Affordable Care Act.

Maryland’s attorney general tried to argue in his lawsuit that the Affordable Care Act should continue as law even without the federal individual mandate. The Act is sometimes called Obamacare.

His lawsuit says the “health and well-being” of the state’s residents would suffer without it. He also says the state would need to spend more money to cover uncompensated health care of the uninsured population.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander in Baltimore dismissed Maryland’s lawsuit, saying the state lacks standing to sue. Standing refers to evidence that a party to a lawsuit will suffer significant harm if they are not allowed to proceed with their legal claim.

Hollander said the state did not present enough evidence that it would be harmed.

Regardless of whether President Donald Trump and other Republicans want to eliminate the law, Maryland has no right to sue while it still is on the books, she said.

“Neither the president’s zealous attempts to repeal the statute, nor his derisive comments about it, support an inference that he will fail to enforce the law,” Hollander wrote.

“In effect, the state proclaims that the sky is falling,” her ruling said. “But falling acorns, even several of them, do not amount to a falling sky.”

Hollander dismissed the case without prejudice, which means Maryland could file another lawsuit if circumstances change by creating a more direct threat to the state’s health insurance plan.

“We will resume this litigation immediately if the president breaks his promise of continued enforcement or when the stay of the Texas court’s decision is lifted,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement.

Lawyers for Maryland also questioned whether’s Trump appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker without Senate confirmation rendered him unauthorized to make decisions on federal law, such as the Affordable Care Act.

However, the judge rejected the argument.

U.S. Justice Department officials said they were pleased by the judge’s ruling.

The case is Maryland v. U.S. et al. in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

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