The judges focused on whether the 2010 Affordable Care Act lost its justification after Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 signed a law that eliminated a tax penalty used to enforce the ACA's mandate that all Americans buy health insurance.
Two of the three judges on the appeals court panel - both appointed by Republican presidents - repeatedly pressed California's deputy solicitor general, who is defending the law, to explain why it should remain on the books after Congress in 2017 scrapped a penalty against people who didn't have health insurance. A lawsuit filed by 20 Republican State Attorney Generals claims that changes eliminating the individual mandate of the ACA have made it unconstitutional.
Any kind of ruling by a panel of three judges is likely to send the health care law to the Supreme Court, possibly in the midst of the 2020 presidential election.
In 2012, a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of its provisions, including the individual mandate, which requires people to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.
But the state's Republican leaders have offered few ideas about what should replace Obamacare, a law that touches practically every aspect of health care regulations and includes several popular protections for patients. Gov.
A victory for plaintiffs assures that health care will once again be front and center on the campaign trail as Trump seeks reelection next year.
"If you no longer have the tax, why isn't it unconstitutional?"
Judge Kurt Engelhardt suggested Tuesday that court precedent strongly connected the requirement to get insurance, known as the "individual mandate", to protected coverage of preexisting conditions. That could become a key element of Tuesday's oral arguments.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey joined Democrats at state and federal levels this week in calling on Republican lawmakers to take a stance on the lawsuit and its potential ramifications.
"President Trump has spent the last two years plus, sabotaging our health care system", Baldwin said, sharing stories of people impacted by the ACA.
"Seniors paying for drugs and Medicare and the young people on their parents' health insurance plans until the age of 26 will be affected". Another 800,000 Pennsylvanians enrolled in Medicaid expansion also could lose coverage.
Justice Department attorney August Flentje, facing questions about the administration's approach, said the government would enforce it until a final decision comes. Eighteen states, led by Texas, are challenging the federal health care law. "We, Democrats, will keep fighting, tooth and nail, to protect American's health care for as long as it takes and we will not stop until we succeed". Because the case is before one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, it is nearly guaranteed to wind up in the Supreme Court. He said the legal remedy for those states would involve only the parts of the law that have harmed them. At stake: the subsidized health coverage of roughly 1 million Texans, sweeping protections for patients with preexisting conditions, young adults staying on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 and a host of low-priced benefits available to all people with health insurance, including those covered through their employers.
On Tuesday, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held up signs with the faces of Americans who they say would be hurt if Republicans succeed in their efforts to overturn the ACA.