Collins asks Justice Dept. not to support Obamacare strikedown

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a key swing vote in the Senate, is asking the Justice Department to reverse its recent support of a total strikedown of the Affordable Care Act, saying the job of eliminating aspects of the health care law should be left to Congress.

“Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for the Administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal. The Administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress,” Collins, who represents Maine, wrote in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General William Barr.

In a dramatic reversal last week, the Justice Department, in a filing with a federal appeals court, sided with the ruling of a federal judge in Texas that invalidated the Obama-era health care law last year.

The Texas ruling came after the Justice Department, under the direction of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, argued that the community rating rule and the guaranteed issue requirement — protections for people with pre-existing conditions — could not be defended but the rest of the law, popularly known as Obamacare, could stand.

The shift in the Justice Department’s stance doubles down on stripping away the protections that were a hallmark of the landmark heath reform law.

In her letter to Barr, Collins said certain parts of the law — such as the penalty for not having insurance, which Congress effectively eliminated from the law in 2017 — could be jettisoned while others remained. The individual mandate requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance and had mandated those who didn’t to pay a penalty.

“It is implausible that Congress intended protections for those with preexisting conditions to stand or fall together with the individual mandate, when Congress affirmatively eliminated the penalty while leaving these and other critical consumer protections in place,” she wrote. “If Congress had intended to eliminate these consumer protections along with the individual mandate, it could have done so. It chose not to do so.”

Collins noted in her letter that the Justice Department’s new position “puts at risk not only critical consumer provisions” like the pre-existing conditions rule and “the Medicaid expansion, dependent coverage for young adults to age 26, coverage for preventive services, and the regulatory pathway for FDA approval of biosimilars.”

In September 2017, Collins was one of three Republicans who were opposed to a GOP-sponsored effort to repeal Obamacare, expressing concerns that the legislation didn’t do enough to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify that Congress effectively eliminated the penalty for not having insurance, rather than the requirement altogether.