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Supreme Court to Hear New Challenge to Obamacare

— November 7, 2014

Supreme Court of the United StatesAs reported by the New York Times, US Supreme Court announced today it will accept a new challenge to Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), threatening the president’s signature piece of legislation.

The case centers about “tax subsidies that are central to the operation of the health care law. According to the challengers, those subsidies are improperly being given in states that have decided not to run the marketplaces for insurance coverage known as exchanges. Under the law, the federal government has stepped in to run exchanges in those states.” (NYT)

If the challenge to Obamacare is upheld, healthcare subsidies currently received by millions of Americans would be revoked, “destabilizing and perhaps dooming the law.” (Ibid)

All this depends on how the Court interprets one clause of the Affordable Care Act, indicating that subsidies are only to be awarded within “a [healthcare] exchange established by the state.”  The present challengers to the ACA contend that this clause should mean only states with their own exchanges are eligible for subsidies, making ineligible for subsidy those who use exchanges set up by the federal government.  As it currently stands, the IRS disagrees with challengers in the present lawsuit and purports “the state” can refer to the federal government.

The New York Times continues, “The case the Supreme Court agreed to hear is from Virginia. It was brought by four people who said they did not want to be subject to the law’s requirement that they buy insurance or pay a penalty. But for the subsidies, they said, they would have been eligible for a hardship exemption. [ ] In July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va.,ruled against the challengers. Judge Roger L. Gregory, writing for a three-judge panel of the court, said the contested phrase was “ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations.” That meant, he said, that the I.R.S.’s interpretation was entitled to deference.”

Later that very day, the US Court of Appeals for DC ruled the opposite and in line with the ACA challengers in the present lawsuit: that “only people in states that run their own exchanges are eligible for subsidies. …

It takes only four votes to add a case to the Supreme Court’s docket. They may have come from the four members of the court who were ready in 2012to strike down the Affordable Care Act: Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Once again, it seems, the fate of the law may rest with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.” (NYT)

Here is a statement made by The White House this afternoon:

“The ACA is working. These lawsuits won’t stand in the way of the Affordable Care Act and the millions of Americans who can now afford health insurance because of it. We are confident that the financial help afforded millions of Americans was the intent of the law and it is working as Congress designed.

This lawsuit reflects just another partisan attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act and to strip millions of American families of tax credits that Congress intended for them to have. We will continue to ensure that every American has the peace of mind of having access to affordable insurance. We are confident that the Supreme Court will recognize both the clear reading of the entire law, and the certain intent of Congress in crafting it. Indeed, with uninsured rates plummeting across the country, it’s clear that the Affordable Care Act is already working. American families who have already enrolled, or are planning to sign up during the open enrollment period beginning on November 15th should know that nothing has changed: tax credits and affordable coverage remain available.”

Hopefully, Chief Justice Roberts, Jr. rules to preserve the ACA.  This historic piece of legislation not only bolsters the health of millions of US citizens, but catapults our country well into the ranks of developed, 21st century nation states.
Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States

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