U.S. District Judge John Bates

A George W. Bush-appointed federal judge seems poised to put the kibosh on the Trump administration’s initiative to widen the use of association health plans (AHPs) by allowing for multi-state and multi-employer AHPs, something not allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).

This past week in Washington, D.C., U.S. District John Bates heard two hours of arguments about the administration’s plans for AHPs, with the anti-group being led by Blue State attorneys general ranging from California to Kentucky to New York and in between, including the District of Columbia. U.S Justice Department lawyers argued the administration’s side.

When DOJ lawyers argued that the AHP rule, issued by the Department of Labor (DOL), was meant to strengthen the ACA, Judge Bates shot back with the opposite view that the scheme was yet another weapon in the attack on Obamacare. “Isn’t that what this is all about?” he asked the federal lawyers.

Bates also noted that the initiative had been “overwhelmingly opposed” by the health care industry. The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and others have objected to it as well.

When the DOL issued its final AHP rule, it do so by redefining employer in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which would then allow AHPs to cross industries and state lines. Blue State attorney generals immediately challenged the plan in court. Since the publishing of the final rule in August, AHPs have been rolling out according to time tables established by the DOL.

The case is State of New York v. U.S. Department of Labor, 18-cv-1747, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.