Validity of Obama health care law at issue in appeal hearing

Becerra speaks at the podium during a news conference in Sacramento Calif

Becerra speaks at the podium during a news conference in Sacramento Calif

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments beginning on Tuesday over the latest legal challenge against the landmark legislation, which expands insurance access to millions while mandating every American gets health insurance or pays a tax.

Republicans including President Donald Trump have repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to repeal the ACA since it was passed in 2010.

A number of Democratic-led states, led by California, and the U.S. House appealed the lower court's ruling invalidating the law, arguing that even though Congress eliminated the penalty, "doing so neither imposes any legal injury nor violates the Constitution", California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued.

Any kind of ruling by a panel of three judges is likely to send the health care law to the Supreme Court, possibly in the midst of the 2020 presidential election.

They said that more than 20 million people would lose healthcare coverage gained through the Medicaid expansion and Marketplace individual policies created under the ACA, and that important patient projections, such as a ban on restricting coverage for pre-existing conditions, would be eliminated with the law's demise.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is set to hear oral arguments in the case of Texas v. Azar, a suit spearheaded a year ago by 20 Republican-leaning attorneys general (led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton) and endorsed by President Trump.

The judges hearing the arguments were 5th Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Kurt Engelhardt.

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The hearing marked the latest development in a 2018 lawsuit by 18 Republican-leaning states claiming that the absence of a tax converts the law into an unconstitutional directive to USA citizens to buy a product.

The Trump administration had initially opposed certain parts of the law tied to the mandate. But Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberal members to hold the mandate was a valid exercise of Congress's tax power. But the administration made waves earlier this year when the Justice Department weighed in on the case, filing a brief saying that it agreed with the district court's ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional. With no fine for those who refuse to buy insurance, they argued that the mandate is now unconstitutional, and since it's a central part of the law, so is the entire ACA.

At one point, Engelhardt suggested that it was up to Congress to forge a solution to the disputes that have dogged the law since its passage, when Democrats controlled Congress and President Barack Obama was just over a year into his tenure. King was nominated to the appeals court by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

California and the 19 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, which won permission to defend the law when the Trump administration declined to do so, appealed to the federal court in New Orleans to reverse the Texas ruling.

Judge Engelhardt, a Trump appointee, appeared to sympathetic to the Republicans' argument Tuesday, though bemoaned the court's role in refereeing what appeared to be a political dispute over how much of Obamacare should be left intact. But congressional Republicans are keeping their distance, since it would give Democrats fodder to attack the GOP for not protecting those with pre-existing conditions - a hallmark of the law. But it argues on appeal the law's balance must be struck down.

Democratic leaders in both the Senate and the House on Tuesday warned their Republican colleagues of the costs - both political and financial - the loss of the popular ObamaCare would incur.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi emphasized the Democratic party's commitment to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at a news conference today.

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