Donald Trump Signed an Executive Order on Obamacare, But Is It Legal?

trump rand paul
Senator Rand Paul and President Donald Trump listen to remarks before signing an executive order making it easier for Americans to buy bare-bones health insurance plans and circumvent Obamacare rules. Reuters

President Donald Trump effusively promises his new executive order on health care will "increase competition, increase choice, and increase access to lower-priced, high-quality healthcare options."

If, that is, he actually has the power to sign such an order.

The White House and some Republicans, including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, went on the defensive Thursday after Trump put his pen to an order that aims to let small businesses join forces to buy health insurance at better prices.

The order doesn't immediately change the Affordable Care Act—former President Barack Obama's signature health care program—but is largely seen as a first step toward taking it apart as Trump has long promised to do.

Paul insisted in an interview with CNN after the signing ceremony that Trump was "not creating a new program" with the executive order, which follows repeated legislative attempts to "repeal and replace" Obamacare and finally make good on years of thwarted GOP promises.

"This is going to empower the consumer," Paul told Fox News.

.@RandPaul on Trump's health care executive order: "This is going to empower the consumer. The consumer will be king in the equation again."

— Neil Cavuto (@TeamCavuto) October 12, 2017

But American Bridge, a progressive political action committee that researches Republican officials and policies, slammed the administration for trying to pull a fast one with people's health.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the group, told Newsweek via e-mail that Trump lost his fight to overturn Obamacare, "and now, in a desperate attempt for a political win — no matter who gets hurt — he's using an insidious, behind-the-back executive action that medical experts and hospitals are warning will devastate Americans with pre-existing conditions," Bates said.

"On top of being unusually cruel, Trump's scheme may not even be legal," he said, citing questions posed about the order by experts such as Stuart Gerson, who served in the Justice Department under both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"I don't think you can solve this problem without changing the law. It has to be done by statute, not regulation," Gerson told Modern Healthcare in an interview.

"Mr. President, you need to sign it" - @VP to Trump as he walks out without signing the executive order he was just announcing

— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) October 12, 2017

Trump, joined by smiling legislators during the order signing, said he was directing members of his cabinet to look into how more businesses could set up "tax-free health reimbursement arrangements" for workers.

"Currently, only about one-third of small business employees receive coverage at work, forcing millions of workers to enroll in the exchanges or remain uninsured and to pay the individual mandate penalty," the president said. "Not good. Not good. That is one of the most unpopular things I've ever seen in government, I can tell you."

In Thursday email responses to questions from Newsweek, one White House spokesperson called the executive order "completely consistent with law."

Another said, "departments will be drafting rules in a way that minimizes litigation risk."

Democrats piled on, unsurprisingly, in what's been a hyper-partisan battle over the former president's signature accomplishment.

President Trump’s health care executive order may seem a little complicated so let me break it down: It’s sabotage.

— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) October 12, 2017

Among them: Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who assailed Trump on Twitter as "using a wrecking ball to singlehandedly rip apart & sabotage our healthcare system."

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