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Federal judge appears unlikely to block Trump's action on Obamacare

Maura Dolan and David Lauter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge in San Francisco suggested Monday there was no need for a court to step in and block President Donald Trump's order that cut off health care subsidies that have been a center of political debate.

The subsidies, which reimburse insurers for reducing out-of-pocket costs for lower-income Americans, are key to keeping health insurance markets stable and preventing premiums from rising sharply, insurance officials and state regulators say.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, joined by Democratic counterparts from 17 other states and the District of Columbia, asked the court to put Trump's order on hold. They argue Trump's action would spark "chaos and uncertainty," raise the cost of health insurance and the number of uninsured Americans and saddle states and local governments with higher expenses.

But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, an Obama appointee, expressed considerable skepticism during a hearing Monday. He noted that 40 to 45 states, including California, took steps to prepare for Trump's action in advance, and as a result, most health care consumers will face stable or even lower premiums.

"It seems like California is doing a really good job of responding," he said during the hearing.

"The state of California is standing on the courthouse steps denouncing the president for taking away people's health care when the truth is California has come up with a solution to that issue that is going to result in better health care for people," he added later.

Chhabria, who said he would issue a final ruling Tuesday, suggested that an injunction would just create more uncertainty.

His comments seemed to lean toward the government's position that the states had not proven any emergency that would justify a court order. In written arguments last week, administration lawyers said in response to the states' suit that "the harms that they allege are speculative; at best they will occur months or years from now, not next week."

Indeed, Congress could resolve the issue. A bipartisan deal reached this month by two senior U.S. senators would reinstate the payments for the next two years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday he would bring the legislation to the floor if Trump makes clear he would sign it. Trump has taken conflicting positions.

Many conservative Republicans have opposed the legislation, saying that Congress should take no action to fix Obamacare, which they want to repeal.

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