Becerra called the legal challenge a dangerous and reckless move.
"The Affordable Care Act is an integral part of our health care system," he said. "For the last nine years, it has ensured that seniors, young adults, women, children and working families have access to high-quality, affordable care. It has prevented insurance companies from discriminating against 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions."
Striking down the law also would threaten those under age 26 who are covered under a parent's health plan, 12 million seniors with prescription drug benefits under Medicare and families that rely on tax credits and employer-sponsored plans to afford insurance, Becerra said.
THE LEGAL CASE
Paxton's case against the Affordable Care Act focuses on the Trump tax cuts of 2017, when Congress eliminated the tax penalty under the law's individual mandate, a provision that requires most Americans to have some form of health insurance.
According to Paxton, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, it did so because the individual mandate was a proper use of congressional taxing authority. With the penalty stripped out, there is no legal basis for the act, he said.
"Congress meant for the individual mandate to be the centerpiece of Obamacare. Without the constitutional justification for the centerpiece, the law must go down," Paxton said.
U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth agreed, ruling in December that the individual mandate's penalty was so central to the intentions of Congress that the entire act was unconstitutional.
Becerra asked the 5th Circuit Court to overturn O'Connor's ruling, arguing that Congress has the authority to encourage people to buy health insurance without imposing a tax penalty. In addition, he argued, the individual mandate remains a tax provision that Congress left on the books but which does not, for the moment, generate tax revenue.
"Either of these approaches preserves the constitutionality of (the mandate)," Becerra told the appeals court.