Biden Calls for Protection of Obamacare as Court Hears Arguments

President-elect Joe Biden promised Tuesday to defend the Affordable Care Act, hours after President Donald Trump’s administration argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the law should be struck down.

“These ideologues are once again trying to strip health coverage away from millions of people,” he said of Republican lawmakers in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware.

Both Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, stressed that voters gave them a mandate to protect the health care law, a key promise of their campaign.

“Our country had a clear choice in this election,” Harris said. “Each and every vote for Joe Biden was a statement that health care should be a right not a privilege.”

Biden said his incoming administration would start in January to work with Congress to increase protections for coverage.

“We will not abandon you. That is a promise,” Biden said.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh both suggested during arguments on Tuesday that they aren’t prepared to strike down the entire law even if Republican challengers succeed in invalidating the mandate, which requires people to acquire insurance.

Biden promised as a candidate to protect the law, also known as Obamacare, and to build on it by adding an option to buy into a government-run plan. He called the lawsuit before the Supreme Court an imminent threat to millions of Americans just as the coronavirus pandemic made the need for health care even more pressing.

More than 10.1 million people in the U.S. have been infected with Covid-19 and more than 238,000 have died.

Some 20 million people could lose their health insurance and more than 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, including those who have had Covid-19, could lose their legal protections, according to estimates from the liberal Center for American Progress.

The Trump administration joined Republican-led states in challenging the law, which the GOP has been trying to dismantle since it was enacted in 2010. The House of Representatives and a group of Democratic-controlled states are defending the law.

Republicans are hoping that the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, will strike down the ACA’s individual mandate to have health insurance. The Supreme Court upheld the provision in 2012 when Roberts said it was a legitimate use of Congress’s taxing power, because the law included a penalty on people who lacked insurance policies.

The mandate originally carried a tax penalty for noncompliance, a provision that was central to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law. A Republican-controlled Congress zeroed-out the tax in 2017, and opponents now say the whole ACA must be invalidated.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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