LOS ANGELES (CN) – California has joined 13 states and the District of Columbia to intervene in a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to strip the Affordable Care Act of billions of dollars in subsidies that reduce health care costs for low-income people.
Speaking at a Thursday afternoon press conference at the St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the states are filling the void left by the Obama administration because they fear that President Donald Trump will decline to defend the case.
“We’re not willing to let Washington D.C. and the administration there sabotage the health care that you have earned because you worked hard for it and that your kids now rely on,” Becerra said.
The 15 jurisdictions filed the motion to intervene in The United States House of Representatives v. Price, et al. at the appeals court for the District of Columbia. They argue that withdrawing the subsidies would make insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans.
After the passage of the Affordable Care Act – commonly known as Obamacare – Republicans tried to repeal or change the law more than 60 times. The GOP-controlled house went to court in 2014 and sued former Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell, claiming the cost-sharing reductions were illegal because Congress did not appropriate the funding for the subsidies.
Insurers and the health care law’s backers say the subsidies are an essential part of the law and help keep premiums down.
In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer sided with the Republicans, agreeing that because the payments were never appropriated from Congress, they were unlawful. The judge barred the use of unappropriated funds for the subsidies but stayed her order in anticipation of an Obama administration appeal.
Trump and the GOP-led House and Senate have made the repeal and replacement of Obamacare a priority. Their first effort to pass a bill floundered in March, but the House passed a second bill, the American Health Care Act, on May 4. The Republican-controlled Senate is now considering the bill.
Becerra said he would use every “legal tool” at his disposal to protect the five million Californians who receive health care coverage under Obamacare.
After the attorney general spoke, Sandra Weathersby shared her story of losing her job in 2008 and no longer being able to afford health insurance. After receiving Medicaid, she eventually bought her health care through Covered California, the California health care exchange. Weathersby said that having health insurance helped her stay productive and focused at work because she did not have to worry about whether or not she could afford insurance for her family.
“That’s why I’m so grateful to everyone who is working toward defending those of us who rely on this health care – the Affordable Care Act – and ensuring we also have the health care we need,” she said.
Becerra credited Obamacare with reducing the uninsured in the state from 17 percent in 2013 to 7 percent in 2016, a historic low.
Seven million Americans benefit from the subsidies, which are expected to cost $7 billion in 2017, according to CNN.
In April, the Trump administration signaled that it would continue to pay the subsidies pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
But President Donald Trump said later the same month he was contemplating withholding the cost-sharing subsidies to force Democrats to negotiate with him on his health care overhaul.
Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia joined California in Thursday’s motion to intervene in the court case.
The Justice Department declined to comment.