Capitol Alert

California wants to block Donald Trump’s legal strategy on Obamacare

California led a move Thursday to block one path Republicans in Washington might take to kill critical health care subsidies that go to millions of people using Obamacare.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, joined by attorneys general from 14 other states and the District of Columbia, on Thursday filed a motion to intervene in a pending federal lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Republican-controlled House that sought to unravel a key part of Obamacare – cost sharing subsidies that reduce premiums and copays for low- and middle-income people.

House Republicans contend that the federal payments are illegal because they were not authorized by Congress when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. A federal district judge last year agreed, and the Obama administration appealed. With Trump in the White House, Obamacare advocates fear his administration could simply drop the appeal and end the subsidies – especially if efforts to overhaul the law fail in Congress. If California and other states are granted access to the lawsuit, they would be in position to oppose that maneuver.

Threats to federal payments could lead to an Obamacare death spiral, in which health insurers abandon insurance marketplaces, including Covered California, sending premiums and other out-of-pocket costs soaring, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has warned. An April Covered California analysis found insurance premiums would rise up to 49 percent across the state’s insurance market in 2018.

Trump threatened to eliminate subsidies and then said they could stay in place. Becerra pointed to Trump’s promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“No parent should worry if they can afford to take their child to a doctor or hospital,” he said in a statement. “President Trump’s unpredictable behavior and lack of defense of the health care coverage of millions of Americans under the ACA threatens to resurrect those fears of every parent.”