By SUDHIN THANAWALA
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - An attorney for California was grilled by a federal judge skeptical of a push by 18 states to immediately reinstate Affordable Health Care Act subsidies cut off by the Trump administration.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said he would likely issue a ruling on Tuesday, a day after he said at a hearing that California and other states had protected consumers from the loss of the funding so people didn't face an immediate threat of higher insurance costs.
California, 17 other states and the District of Columbia want the judge to force the government to make the payments as their lawsuit challenging the end of the subsidies works its way through the courts, which will take months.
State attorneys general, led by California Democrat Xavier Becerra, argue the monthly payments to insurance providers are required under former President Barack Obama's health care law. Without them, consumers will face higher costs and insurers will back out of the law's health insurance markets, causing them to fall apart, the states say.
The cost-sharing payments reimburse insurers for providing lower-income people with discounts on out-of-pocket costs. President Donald Trump halted the subsidies earlier this month, criticizing them as insurance company bailouts.
California and other states had anticipated the subsidies would end and found a way to ensure consumers would not pay more for insurance, Chhabria, an Obama appointee, said during a hearing. The states limited the plans for which insurers could hike premiums to make up for the lost subsidies and ensured that many people will get more tax credits for their health insurance purchases, the judge said.
Chhabria peppered an attorney for California with questions about why he should force the administration to resume payments when the states had devised a workaround that would benefit many consumers.
"The state of California is standing on the courthouse steps denouncing the president for taking away people's health care, when the truth is that California has come up with a solution to that issue that is going to result in better health care for a lot of people," Chhabria said.
Gregory Brown, who represented California at the hearing, said the loss of the subsidies was creating "uncertainty and chaos" that could lead insurance companies to opt out of the health law.
The states joining California in the lawsuit are: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, along with the District of Columbia.
Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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