The Trump DOJ just put an estimated 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions at risk of losing health insurance coverage.

Trump’s Justice Department filed a briefing late Thursday stating it will no longer defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA) against state lawsuits, and telling courts to strike down provisions including the individual mandate and protections requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

The brief was filed as part of a case brought by 20 Republican-led states, which contends the ACA’s individual mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance is unconstitutional, since it was struck down by Republicans in Congress. By extension, the states argue, the rest of the law should no longer be valid, either.

The DOJ largely agreed with this position in the brief filed on Thursday, saying the consumer protections guaranteed by the ACA should be ruled unconstitutional.

The legal premise has already been called into question, including by officials within the DOJ. Just before the brief was filed Thursday evening, three career DOJ attorneys involved in the case withdrew from it entirely.

What the DOJ is doing — refusing to defend an existing law — is extraordinarily rare and, in this case, will almost certainly face serious legal challenges.

However, this doesn’t mean the case should be taken any less seriously. The Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress have already made it clear they want to get rid of the ACA and see no problem allowing insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.

Now Trump’s DOJ has made its first move toward taking us back to the days when people could be priced out of the insurance market — or denied coverage entirely — based on current or prior health conditions, including everything from pregnancy and migraines, to cancer and diabetes.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 52 million American adults under the age of 65 would likely become uninsurable if the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions were rolled back.

With so many people being forced out of the insurance market, an estimated 130 million Americans would see their health care costs go up.

If the sheer cruelty isn’t bad enough on its own, the Trump administration also added a cynical twist to its plot to strip coverage from millions of Americans. Knowing that the move will be wildly unpopular, the administration doesn’t want the change to go into effect until after 2018 midterms, so Americans won’t be able take out their anger in the voting booth.

Make no mistake: Regardless of how it’s presented or when it would take effect, the Trump administration is taking aim at millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions — and as long as Republicans remain in control of Congress, they’ll be waiting in the wings to assist in the effort.