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Calif. Attorney General Xavier Becerra On Latest Challenge To Affordable Care Act

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

What's next for the Affordable Care Act now that a federal appeals court has struck down a key part of it? The court said it was unconstitutional for the law to require Americans to buy health coverage when there is no longer a financial penalty for those who do not. Now it's back to a lower court to decide whether that part of the law can be removed without striking down the whole thing. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is fighting to preserve the ACA and is prepared to do it in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

XAVIER BECERRA: Great to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You have said that you're going to file a request for the Supreme Court to hear this case immediately. Why not let it run its course? Why do you want the Supreme Court to take it quickly?

BECERRA: Because what the lower district court gave us, and now what the appellate court in the fifth district gave us, was uncertainty. And Americans are fed up with uncertainty when it comes to whether or not they can send their child to a doctor or the hospital. We deserve to have certainty. Health care is not some widget that you play with. It's life and death.

SHAPIRO: But look. It's been before the Supreme Court twice before. What makes you think a third time will provide that certainty?

BECERRA: Well, because twice before, the Supreme Court has held it constitutional. So three may be the charm.

SHAPIRO: The Supreme Court is more conservative now than it was before, with Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the court. Are you confident that the third time actually will be a charm and that this isn't going to be the time it's struck down?

BECERRA: Actually, Ari, think about it. Having access to a doctor that your child needs - that's a pretty conservative principle. We don't want to have this erratic system where you don't know if you'll be ready to go to school or ready to go to work. You want to be healthy. I would think anyone who is in this country, whether conservative or liberal, would see having access to decent, affordable health care as a principle we can all accept.

SHAPIRO: Can I just ask, have you filed the petition before the Supreme Court yet - the petition for certiorari, as it's known?

BECERRA: Well, we're fast in California, but not that fast.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BECERRA: We will talk to all of our partners because, as you know, the number of states that have filed to defend the Affordable Care Act is numerous. And we'll be ready to go.

SHAPIRO: Cynics might say Democrats want this before the Supreme Court because they think it'll be a political win in an election year. Does that have anything to do with your consideration?

BECERRA: Cynics be damned - this is about making sure our families have the health care they need. No one should lose access to health care because of a political decision that's been moving through the courts now.

SHAPIRO: But it is politically popular, the Affordable Care Act. It is an election year, and the Supreme Court will put it under a brighter spotlight. What impact do you think that's going to have?

BECERRA: Well, hopefully, the Supreme Court's going to give us the certainty we all want. Remember, the Supreme Court has taken up some critical cases in a fast-track way before. The census case that was just ruled on this summer was a case that got fast-tracked to the Supreme Court. We believe that this as critical. This is about the health care for millions and millions of people.

SHAPIRO: You're saying that you want to end the legal uncertainty, but in fact, this law has been litigated pretty much constantly since it was passed. And during that time, millions of people have gotten on the exchanges, have gotten health care. And nothing changes as a result of this Fifth Circuit appeals court ruling. It seems pretty resilient, and the uncertainty doesn't seem to have made much of a difference.

BECERRA: And, Ari, that's the beauty of the Affordable Care Act. As many times as it's been assaulted - Republicans have tried more than 70 times in the Congress to repeal it. As many times as it's been attacked, it's still there, and tens of millions of Americans continue to benefit from it. So that's the certainty. The uncertainty is the politics that's being played in Congress and in the courts to try to undo it.

SHAPIRO: But I guess my point is, if it's survived - and, one could argue, even thrived - in spite of all the uncertainty of the last decade, what's the urgency to resolve this now?

BECERRA: Because without the challenge moving up to the Supreme Court, that uncertainty could undo the entire Affordable Care Act because now you've got a ruling that says that part of it is unconstitutional, and the rest of it could hinge in the balance. And so rather than allow that uncertainty to continue to dangle, it's time for the Supreme Court to give us a final ruling on this matter.

SHAPIRO: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, thank you so much for talking with us again.

BECERRA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.