Attorneys general in 19 states have filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over his decision to stop payments that lower health insurance deductibles and co-pays for millions of Americans with modest incomes.
California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York are among the states announcing they had filed the lawsuit in federal court in California.
Trump said Thursday he would end the cost-sharing subsidies.
The attorneys general say Trump is not following federal law in ending a legally mandated system that already is operating.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen says Trump's action would raise health insurance prices enough that healthier people will flee the insurance markets, resulting in higher costs for those who remain.
Defiant Democrats, convinced they have important leverage, promised to press for a bipartisan deal to restore the money by year's end. That drive could split the GOP. On one side: pragmatists seeking to avoid political damage from hurting consumers. On the other: conservatives demanding a major weakening of the Affordable Care Act as the price for returning the money.
"The American people will know exactly where to place the blame," declared Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., all but daring Trump to aggravate what could be a major issue in the 2018 congressional elections.
The money goes to companies for lowering out-of-pocket costs like co-payments and deductibles for low- and middle-income customers. It will cost about $7 billion this year and help more than 6 million people.
Ending the payments would affect insurers because President Barack Obama's law requires them to reduce their poorer customers' costs. Carriers are likely to recoup the lost money by increasing 2018 premiums for people buying their own health insurance policies.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners estimates that Trump's move would produce a 12 percent to 15 percent upsurge in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has put the figure at 20 percent. That's on top of premium increases from growing medical costs.
Experts say the political instability over Trump's effort to undermine Obama's health care law could also prompt more insurers to leave markets. As Trump frequently points out, next year about half of U.S. counties will have only one insurer on "Obamacare's" online marketplaces, up from the one-third of counties with one carrier in 2017.
Trump relished his latest blow against the law that he pledged to repeal during his presidential campaign, only to see the effort crash in the GOP-run Senate this summer. He's long derided the subsidies as bailouts to insurers, even though the payments and the cost reductions for consumers are required by law.
The scrapping of subsidies would affect millions more consumers in states won by Trump last year, including Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, than in states won by Democrat Hillary Clinton. Nearly 70 percent of the 6 million who benefit from the cost-sharing subsidies are in states that voted for the Republican.
"Congress, they forgot what their pledges were," Trump told conservative activists at the Values Voter Summit, recalling GOP candidates' repeated vows to repeal Obama's law. "So we're going a little different route. But you know what? In the end, it's going to be just as effective, and maybe it will even be better."
He later reiterated his belief that his move would pressure Democrats to bargain over major changes in the law and said, "There's going to be time to negotiate health care that's going to be good for everybody."
Trump's move was hailed by conservative groups including Heritage Action for America and Freedom Partners, backed by the Koch brothers.
But rallying against it were medical and consumer groups including the American Heart Association, the American College of Physicians and insurance industry behemoths America's Health Insurance Plans and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.