The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to invalidate Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which has provided health insurance to millions of Americans.
According to government lawyers, Obamacare became invalid when the previous Republican-led Congress axed parts of it.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden attacked the move, saying President Donald Trump had put millions of lives at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.
Health care will be a key battleground in this year’s presidential election.
Some 20 million Americans could lose their health coverage if the court overturns the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was introduced by President Barack Obama.
Obamacare’s popular provisions include banning insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. Millions of low-income Americans were able to obtain insurance due to the act.
President Trump says the scheme costs too much and has promised a different plan to replace it, preserving some popular elements of the existing law but covering fewer people.
Under Obamacare, millions of people in the US must purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty.
In 2017, Congress removed a key plank of the policy, eliminating the federal fine for those who did not sign up, known as the “individual mandate”.
In its filing to the Supreme Court on June 25, the justice department argued “the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the act”.
As a result, it said: “The mandate is now unconstitutional as a result of Congress’s elimination… of the penalty for non-compliance.”
President Trump cannot rely on Congress to complete the dismantling of Obamacare because the Democrats took control of the lower house in 2019.
Joe Biden, who wants to rally the public behind an expanded Affordable Care Act, said some coronavirus survivors could lose their comprehensive healthcare coverage if the act was overturned.
He said: “They would live their lives caught in a vice between Donald Trump’s twin legacies: his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus, and his heartless crusade to take healthcare protections away from American families.”
In a statement on June 26, White House spokesman Judd Deere said Obamacare was “an unlawful failure”.
The statement said: “It limits choice, forces Americans to purchase unaffordable plans, and restricts patients with high-risk preexisting conditions from accessing the doctors and hospitals they need.”
The US has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, recording 2.4 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 122,370 deaths – more than any other country.
However, the true number of infections is likely to be 10 times higher than the reported figure, according to the latest estimate by health officials.
The Supreme Court is unlikely to hear the case before voters go to the polls in November, media report.
However, several senators have expressed unhappiness over the process, because it is not clear what they will vote on if the procedure vote passes.
There appear to be two choices – either a repeal-and-replace bill that has already struggled to win support across the party, or a bill that enacts repeal with a two-year delay, in the hope of finding agreement before that time elapses.
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Senator John McCain, recently diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, will return to Congress to cast his vote.
President Trump increased the pressure on his party by warning them they had a duty to adhere to seven years of promises.
In a White House speech laced with frustration, he said: “To every member of the Senate I say this: The American people have waited long enough.
“There’s been enough talk, and no action. Now is the time for action.”
The president lambasted his predecessor’s overhaul of healthcare and stood alongside people he said were “victims” of the 2010 law.
ObamaCare extended healthcare insurance to about 20 million people but Republicans hate the way it introduced government-run marketplaces, where premiums have risen sharply for some people.
The GOP’s proposed alternative includes steep cuts to Medicaid, a healthcare program for the poor and disabled.
It removes ObamaCare’s individual mandate requiring all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
The non-partisan Congressional Budgetary Office (CBO) found the bill would strip 22 million Americans of health insurance over the next decade.
However, if the bill gets to the floor of the Senate, amendments could be added to change the various provisions.
A Republican politician has blamed “female senators” for the spluttering efforts by his party to pass a healthcare bill.
Blake Farenthold, a congressman from Texas, told a local radio station if a man from his state was responsible, he would challenge him to a duel.
“Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the North East.”
If it was “a guy from south Texas” who was generating so much discord in the party, he said, he would ask them to settle their differences in a gun fight.
Susan Collins of Maine was one of three female Republicans who said they could not back the Senate’s last healthcare plan, a repeal with two-year delay, which hit the buffers last week.
She has been strongly opposed to the Republican bill from the start over the cuts to Medicaid.
Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia also came out against the bill, expressing concerns over plans to weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and affordability.
There was an outcry when Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell drafted the first healthcare bill in private among a group of 13 that did not include any women.