As health law case goes to appeals court, sign-ups steady

Democratic attorneys general on Thursday appealed a federal court ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, as new enrollment numbers underscored the staying power of the Obama-era law.

The government reported that about 8.4 million Americans have signed up this year under the law, reflecting steady demand for its subsidized health insurance. President Donald Trump still disdains "Obamacare," but he failed to repeal it after promising a better plan in its place.

The Democratic attorneys general said they've launched their appeal of a recent ruling by a conservative federal judge in Texas who declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. In Washington, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced a vote next week on a resolution that would authorize lawyers for the House to join the appeal.

The health law remains in place while the lawsuit continues before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Thursday's enrollment update covers the 39 states served by the federal website. For those states, sign-up season officially ended Dec. 15. The final count will be higher, after major states like California and New York that run their own campaigns are added in.

The Trump administration called the sign-up numbers "remarkably steady" at a time when unemployment has been low and more workers have access to job-based coverage. Sign-ups in the 39 states were about 5 percent lower than last year, despite the administration's deep cuts to the advertising budget and Trump's ongoing disdain for the program.

A former Obama administration official said it's validation for former President Barack Obama's signature law.

"A larger percentage of people kept their coverage than ever before," Joshua Peck, who previously ran marketing for, said after analyzing Thursday's numbers. "Once again, demand for comprehensive health coverage wins the day and underscores the resiliency of the Affordable Care Act."

With the House under Democratic control, repeal is out of the question for Republican foes of "Obamacare."

The greatest threat to the ACA now seems to come from a lawsuit filed by group of Republican-led states. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, recently ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring the entire law unconstitutional after Congress repealed its fines for uninsured people.

Democratic state attorneys general defending the health law announced Thursday that they have formally launched their appeal of O'Connor's ruling. The Democratic state officials stepped in after the Trump administration said it would no longer defend key parts of the ACA, such as its protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

"We think the decision was wrong-headed and that it was an over-reach," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

If the case were to reach the Supreme Court, the five justices who upheld the health law in its first major challenge continue to serve. They are the court's four liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts. Becerra said the appeals court case may take a year to decide.


This article has been corrected to say that enrollment figures are for 2019.