Tuesday’s federal appeals court session showed signs that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may plan to cut out part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The panel of judges met in New Orleans to hear 90 minutes of oral arguments on the Texas v. United States lawsuit. In December, a federal district judge in Texas declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, a position that the state of Alabama is supporting, alongside other red states.
If the state’s desire to strip the entire program is successful, up to 20 million people in Texas would lose health coverage. When other states like Alabama follow suit, that number will rise significantly, leaving millions of Americans without care.
During the hearing, the two Republican judges, Jennifer Walker Elrod, appointed by President George W. Bush, and Kurt Engelhardt, appointed by President Donald Trump, pressed a defending lawyer with questions on why the law should remain on the books, showing skepticism.
The judges implied that the law is no longer needed after Congress removed penalties against people without health insurance in 2017, something that was included as an essential part of the program when it was released in 2010.
“Congress can fix this,” Engelhardt said, suggesting that decisions on the Affordable Care Act should be left to them instead of the courts.
The two judges could form a majority on the three-judge panel. The third judge, Carolyn Dineen King, did not speak at all during Tuesday’s hearing. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Tuesday’s hearing showed the importance of the case, which could potentially make it to the Supreme Court before the 2020 elections.
Twenty states, led by California and Democratic lawmakers, are working to preserve the Affordable Care Act.
Despite the state of Alabama’s backing of Texas, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones have spoken out against the state’s position.
“If the Trump administration has its way in court, nearly two million Alabamians with pre-existing conditions will lose critical protections, insurance companies will be able to charge women more than men and health insurance costs will go up for all Alabamians, even those with employer-based coverage,” Sewell said.
Though the Trump administration did not initially back the Texas suit in 2018, they have now declared their full support, pushing for a full repeal of Obamacare.