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'Unfathomable Cruelty': Trump Files Legal Brief Aiming to Kick 20 Million Off Health Insurance in Middle of Pandemic

"We need to be guaranteeing healthcare for all, not gutting it from millions."

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a roundtable in the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

The Trump administration late Thursday night filed a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, a move that would strip health insurance from more than 20 million people in the middle of a pandemic and slash taxes for the richest Americans.

The brief (pdf), submitted by the Justice Department in support of a Republican lawsuit, argues that Congress' 2017 repeal of the individual mandate rendered the ACA unconstitutional.

"The entire ACA thus must fall with the individual mandate," writes Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and lead sponsor of the House Medicare for All Act of 2019, said in response to the Trump administration's latest attack on the ACA that "we need to be guaranteeing healthcare for all, not gutting it from millions."

The brief comes at a time when millions of Americans are newly uninsured due to the coronavirus pandemic, which caused calamitous job losses nationwide and kicked many people off their employer-provided coverage. Government data released Thursday shows that nearly half a million Americans turned to the federal ACA exchanges in April and May after losing their health insurance due to the Covid-19 crisis.

If successful, the effort by Republican state attorneys general and the Trump administration to tear down the ACA would add around 23 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured and end protections for more than 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.

"It wouldn't only end coverage for the 11.4 million people who signed up for insurance for this year, but also halt the expansion of Medicaid that covers more than 12 million people," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Insurers would again be able to deny people health coverage or charge higher premiums to consumers with pre-existing conditions."

Full repeal of the ACA would also deliver massive tax cuts to the richest Americans and big corporations, according to a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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"The highest-income 0.1 percent (1 in 1,000) households would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year," the think tank notes. "Households with annual incomes over $1 million would receive tax cuts averaging about $42,000 per year... Striking down the ACA would thus transfer billions of dollars each year from low- and moderate-income people (who would lose subsidized health coverage) to high-income households and corporations (which would receive large tax cuts)."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a member of the coalition of Democratic state attorneys general fighting the GOP lawsuit in court, said Thursday that his side "intends to win this."

"In the middle of a pandemic, the Trump administration's fighting to destroy the ACA," Becerra tweeted. "Tonight before SCOTUS they showed how far they're willing to go."

Ahead of the Trump administration's anticipated legal filing, House Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would bolster the ACA but stop well short of progressive calls to expand Medicare to cover the uninsured.

Titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, the bill aims to make the ACA more affordable by boosting federal premium subsidies.

In a statement Thursday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said "Trump and the Republicans' campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty."

"If President Trump gets his way, 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose the ACA's lifesaving protections and 23 million Americans will lose their health coverage entirely," said Pelosi. "There is no legal justification and no moral excuse for the Trump administration's disastrous efforts to take away Americans' healthcare.

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