Judge: Tough questions for 'Obamacare' backers

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Federal appeals court judges expressed skepticism Tuesday that the almost decade-old law that refashioned the nation's health-care system should remain intact after Congress eliminated a tax penalty for Americans who fail to carry health insurance.

"The entire Affordable Care Act can cooperate without the individual mandate", Siegel said during the hearing.

"Congress can fix this", said Judge Kurt Engelhardt, an appointee of President Trump.

The Senate, which remains Republican-controlled, did not join the case - a fact Engelhardt noted. King was nominated to the appeals court by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

It has hundreds of other provisions that have directly and indirectly changed health care, including protections for people with preexisting medical conditions, and allowing children to be covered by their parents' health plans up to age 26.

Even if there's a courtroom victory for the red states and Trump administration, the unraveling of the Affordable Care Act poses risks for Republicans who haven't shown much of an appetite for working on a replacement plan ahead of the 2020 elections, particularly after a few failed attempts to pass a health care plan in 2017. The ultimate outcome will affect protections for people with pre-existing conditions; Medicaid expansions covering roughly 12 million people; and subsidies that help about 10 million others afford health insurance.

5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carolyn Dineen King asked no questions Tuesday.

A victory for plaintiffs assures that health care will once again be front and center on the campaign trail as Trump seeks reelection next year. She and the other GOP appointee, Judge Kurt Engelhardt, named by President Trump past year, repeatedly noted that the law was written without an explicit feature guaranteeing that if one part were ever removed by Congress or the courts, the rest would remain in place.

Such an outcome would eliminate insurance protections for tens of millions of people and mark one of the most dramatic turns in the almost decadelong legal fight over the law.

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It would also widen the divide in the USA between states that have embraced the law and its extensive series of insurance protections and those that have been fighting it since President Obama signed the legislation in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor declared that Congress made the law unconstitutional in 2017 by zeroing out the tax levied on people who don't have insurance.

The rally comes as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals begins hearing Texas v.

In December, a Texas-based federal judge agreed with the lawsuit, filed by a coalition of 18 Republican-leaning states with some backing from the Trump administration.

And there is little evidence that eliminating the penalty has jeopardized the healthcare law's broader program for expanding health coverage.

If the challenge is upheld, it threatens to wipe away coverage for millions of Americans, as well as the law's protections for those with pre-existing conditions. On the other side, 16 states led by California and the Democratic-controlled U.S. House will defend the sweeping reform package, arguing it's provided coverage for 20 million Americans who otherwise would not have it.

The government said in March that a total of 11.4 million people signed up during open enrollment season, a dip of about 300,000 from a year ago.

Each side will get 45 minutes to present their arguments to the appellate court, with a decision likely to come in a few months.

But in a surprise move in March, the Justice Department said it now agrees with the December ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down.

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