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Sign-ups steady as health law case goes to appeals court
Jan 03

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 8.4 million Americans have signed up for coverage this year under the Obama health law, the government said Thursday, reflecting steady enrollment as supporters of the law appealed a recent court ruling declaring it unconstitutional.

The numbers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services underscore the unexpected staying power of ``Obamacare,'' which President Donald Trump failed to repeal after promising a better health insurance plan in its place.

Thursday's update covers the 39 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website. For those states, open enrollment officially ended Dec. 15. The final count will be higher, after major states like California and New York that run their own sign-up campaigns are added in.

Separately on Thursday, Democratic-led states announced they're appealing a recent ruling by a conservative federal judge in Texas that declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced a vote next week on a resolution that would authorize lawyers for the House to join the appeal.

The health law remains in place while the lawsuit continues before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The Trump administration called the sign-up numbers ``remarkably steady'' at a time when unemployment has been low and more workers have access to job-based coverage. Sign-ups in the 39 HealthCare.gov states were about 5 percent lower than last year, despite the administration's deep cuts to the advertising budget and Trump's ongoing disdain for the program.

A former Obama administration official said it's validation for former President Barack Obama's signature law.

``A larger percentage of people kept their coverage than ever before,'' Joshua Peck, who previously ran marketing for HealthCare.gov, said after analyzing Thursday's numbers. ``Once again, demand for comprehensive health coverage wins the day and underscores the resiliency of the Affordable Care Act.''

With the House under Democratic control, repeal is out of the question for Republican foes of ``Obamacare.''

The greatest threat to the ACA now seems to come from a lawsuit filed by group of Republican-led states. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, recently ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring the entire law unconstitutional after Congress repealed its fines for uninsured people.

Democratic state attorneys general defending the health law announced Thursday that they have formally launched their appeal of O'Connor's ruling. The Democratic state officials stepped in after the Trump administration said it would no longer defend key parts of the ACA, such as its protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

``We think the decision was wrong-headed and that it was an over-reach,'' said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

If the case were to reach the Supreme Court, the five justices who upheld the health law in its first major challenge continue to serve. They are the court's four liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts. Becerra said the appeals court case may take a year to decide.

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This article has been corrected to say that enrollment figures are for 2019.


By The Associated Press, Copyright 2019