Trump finally pulls plug on Obamacare

One of former President Barack Obama's most important legacies comes to a close

President Trump is giving people more reasons to stay or move to Massachusetts.

Late Thursday, the Justice Department announced it will no longer defend the provisions of the Affordable Care Act in a suit by 20 GOP-controlled states challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. It’s a decision that will likely end the most important legacy of former President Barack Obama and bring to a close, at least temporarily, the elusive goal to provide health insurance to all Americans, whether they want it or not.

There are already a number of people up in arms about the decision, calling it an unprecedented action by the Justice Department to enact the political whims of the president. But it’s not quite as unprecedented as those folks say. All one needs to do is look back at the decision by the Obama administration to drop its defense of the congressionally enacted Defense of Marriage act, a decision that led to legalized gay marriage.

Attorney General Jeff Session, in a letter to Congress, said the administration has determined Obamacare’s mandate is unconstitutional in the wake of the decision by lawmakers to repeal the tax penalty, the key basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling in upholding the law in 2012. By extension, Sessions said, that would also mean the provisions requiring insurance companies to cover customers with pre-existing conditions and not charge added premiums is also a violation of the Constitution.

What it means is pretty simple: People with cancer, people with arrhythmia, people with diabetes, had best not switch jobs or lose their insurance because they will pay more for new coverage, if, in fact, they can get it.

In those states such as Massachusetts that have their own laws mandating insurance coverage, the decision will have limited initial impact. That, though, is somewhat misleading because only Massachusetts has an individual mandate, even though a number of other states are making efforts to pass such laws.

The individual mandate is the bane of conservatives and libertarians even though it was the result of a proposal from the right-leaning Heritage Foundation back in the 1970s as a path to universal healthcare. The rationale then and now is that in order to cover the sickest, the most well would also need to buy in to balance the spreadsheet as well as avoid people only jumping into the insurance pool when they most need it. But once the late Sen. Ted Kennedy embraced it and Obama used it as the cornerstone of his sweeping law, it no longer was a cause for Republicans.

Some, such as Harvard professor John McDonough, had said Congress’ decision to repeal the tax penalty last December was not a fatal blow to Obamacare and, in some ways, could be a boon to better health policy. But McDonough’s optimistic outlook was based on the retention of the pre-existing conditions clause as well as continued Medicaid funding to support some 13 million people who received coverage they otherwise couldn’t afford.

The Justice Department’s decision to let the pre-existing coverage die with the individual mandate will mean premiums rising in those states that have no law. Some will scramble to pass them before the suit wends its way to its conclusion, which could take months. And the individual and business tax penalty does not expire until 2019, giving a little more breathing room.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Sessions letter said the decision would have no impact on Medicaid expansion funding, but that is up to Congress. Massachusetts relies on the Medicaid funding as well as waivers from the federal government to enforce its laws. What are the chances of finding a Trump appointee sympathetic to the Bay State?

Does the decision to enact Trump’s political stances send a message that the practice could become more widespread? That will be a key point in the mid-term elections this fall. The individual mandate is reviled by a majority of voters, according to most polls, but they support the requirement that insurers not penalize someone for pre-existing conditions. Those two diametrically opposed views will have to be reconciled come November or someone will pay the price.