Utah AG Sean Reyes defends effort to dismantle Obamacare amid pandemic

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is seen here during a debate June 2, 2020, at KUED.

Washington • The Trump administration and Republican attorneys general across the country — including from Utah — are filing briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court this week in a case aimed at ending the Affordable Care Act even as Americans grapple with new upswings in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes had signed on to the effort to dismantle the health care law, also known as Obamacare, and defends his decision because he believes the ACA to be unconstitutional.

But both men seeking to topple Reyes — Republican David Leavitt and Democrat Greg Skordas — charge that Reyes shouldn't be part of the lawsuit before the high court and should focus on issues within the state.

Leavitt, who is facing off against Reyes in the June 30 primary to decide who will be the Republican nominee, said he doesn’t agree with the ACA but that jettisoning it without a plan would be a “disaster” for the country.

“I don’t think that it’s a good idea in any respect to repeal the ACA when we have nothing else to take its place,” Leavitt said this week. “To me, [Reyes joining the lawsuit is] a political move that’s based on trying to win points and favors from a political base. It’s not giving concern to the thousands of people who will be without coverage if the ACA is struck down.”

The Trump administration, joined by 18 Republican attorneys general, were expected to begin arguing the case before the Supreme Court, on paper, though the justices aren’t likely to rule on the issue until next year.

Republican elected officials, for the most part, have assailed the health care law passed in 2010 though its protections for younger Americans, mandatory coverage for those with preexisting conditions and health care exchanges have become more popular among Americans.

If the high court were to strike down the ACA, millions of Americans would lose their health coverage under the law — including more than 200,000 in Utah — while delivering a large tax cut to the highest earners and some corporations, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Americans making the top income, .01% of households, would get a tax cut of $198,000 per year, a report from the Tax Policy Center says, and households making more than $1 million a year would get a cut of $42,000 on their taxes.

Leavitt says Reyes joined the lawsuit because the Republican Attorneys General Association ”basically dictates what positions he takes or positions that he doesn’t.”

The GOP association has given Reyes’ campaign $125,000 and bankrolled a Utah political action committee boosting Reyes’ reelection bid to the tune of $300,000.

Skordas railed against Reyes’ part in the lawsuit during a forum hosted by the Democratic Attorneys General Association, noting that trying to kill a health care law was a “terrible decision before the pandemic. And now it’s almost inexcusable.”

“When people ask, ‘What’s the first order of business if you get elected attorney general?,’” Skordas said, he responds, “To get us out of that lawsuit.”

Reyes campaign pushed back on the attacks from his opponents, saying the lawsuit is necessary to take down an unconstitutional law and that there are better fixes to help Americans with health care coverage than the ACA.

“From a legal standpoint, it’s unconstitutional so you can’t justify a policy you like by saying what Skordas does: ignore the law,” says Reyes’ campaign consultant Alan Crooks.

“From a policy standpoint, Skordas is out of touch with the thousands of low- and middle-income Utahns and many small businesses who want to challenge the ACA because they were much better off without it,” Crooks added “They may have coverage now but the cost of having the coverage and paying deductibles has priced them out of actually getting any health care.”

Crooks also took aim at Leavitt.

“David Leavitt says he believes in something but then shows a complete lack of leadership by saying he wouldn’t do anything about it,” Crooks said. “I would like to thank David Leavitt for pointing out another reason why the people of Utah should vote for Attorney General Sean Reyes.”

Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, countered Reyes’ comment, noting that more than 200,000 Utahns rely on the “affordable and high quality insurance provided by the ACA.”

“Throwing out the ACA would pull the rug out from under Utah families who are already struggling to find a footing.” Slonaker said. “Further, all Utahns benefit from the protections the ACA offers like annual and lifetime limits and protections against preexisting condition discrimination. To dismantle the ACA, during a pandemic, is paramount to reckless negligence.”