Washington, Nov 10 (efe-epa).- The US Supreme Court on Tuesday gave indications that it will allow to stand at least the major part of the 2010 health care reform known as Obamacare during a hearing about the attempts to overturn it by the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers in several states.
The high court had already saved on two occasions – in 2012 and 2015 – the most important element in the Affordable Care Act, the signature achievement of former President Barack Obama, a health care law that has provided coverage to more than 20 million people in the US and which Republicans have spent a decade trying to destroy.
However, the court that on Tuesday heard arguments in a new challenge to Obamacare is the most conservative that has ever examined the law, given that it has three new justices, all of them appointed by Trump, including recently-confirmed magistrate Amy Coney Barrett.
That factor instills fear in Democrats but the hearing provided reason for optimism because at least five of the nine justices on the country’s top judicial body gave signals that they are not in favor of striking down the bulk of the law, including two members of the conservative majority, Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh.
“That’s not our job” to overturn the health care reform when the US Congress could not do it, said Roberts during the Tuesday hearing, which was conducted by teleconference and lasted about two hours.
The high court’s decision in the case is not expected until sometime during the first half of 2021 after Joe Biden is already president. The president-elect has promised to defend and broaden the scope of Obamacare, while Trump has tried fruitlessly to overturn the health care reform during his almost four years in the White House.
The most that Trump has been able to do was when Congress, under Republican control, in 2017 weakened one of the law’s pillars – the requirement that all Americans sign up for health insurance – by eliminating the fine that citizens who did not sign up had to pay.
The state of Texas, which along with 17 other territories headed by Republicans and two individuals asked the Supreme Court once again to review Obamacare’s legality – argues that that change makes the law unconstitutional.
In its first review of the law in 2012, the high court found that the obligation to buy health insurance and the corresponding fine if one elected not do so could be viewed as a tax, and that was constitutional under the power of Congress to impose taxes.
According to the plaintiffs, reducing the fine to zero made it no longer a tax, but those who defend the law insist that Congress has in its hands the possibility to once again impose that penalty, and in addition, they claim that since there is no longer any penalty for not purchasing health insurance, it is therefore unnecessary to strike down the law.
Kavanaugh said that the dispute before the court was “very straightforward” pointing toward severing one provision of the law, rather than striking down the whole statute.
“It does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place, the provisions regarding preexisting conditions and the rest,” he said.
In contrast to earlier challenges to Obamacare, no Republican senator has expressed support for the current suit, a sign of how controversial it would be to strike down the law without having other legislation available to replace it in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.