Thursday, June 25, 2015

Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in early March during oral arguments on the healthcare law. (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in early March during oral arguments on the healthcare law. (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

By Lawrence Hurley, Reuters
25 June 15
he U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, handing a major victory to the president.

The court ruled on a 6-3 vote that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, did not restrict the subsidies to states that establish their own online healthcare exchanges. It marked the second time in three years that the high court ruled against a major challenge to the law brought by conservatives seeking to gut it.

Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s liberal members in the majority.

"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," Roberts wrote, adding that nationwide availability of the credits is required to "avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid."

Shares of hospital operators, health services providers and insurers rallied broadly following the court's decision to uphold the subsidies. Top gainers included hospital companies Tenet Healthcare Corp., up 8.8 percent, and Community Health Systems Inc., up 8.5 percent.

The decision means the subsidies will remain not just in the 13 states that have set up their own exchanges and the three states that have state-federal hybrid exchanges, but also in the 34 states that use the exchange run by the federal government.

The case centered on the tax subsidies offered under the law, passed by Obama's fellow Democrats in Congress in 2010 over unified Republican opposition, that help low- and moderate-income people buy private health insurance. The exchanges are online marketplaces that allow consumers to shop among competing insurance plans.

The question before the justices was whether a four-word phrase in the expansive law saying subsidies are available to those buying insurance on exchanges "established by the state" has been correctly interpreted by the administration to allow subsidies to be available nationwide.

Roberts wrote that although the conservative challengers’ arguments about the plain meaning of the statute were “strong,” the “context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Justice Antonin Scalia took the relatively rare step of reading a summary of his dissenting opinion from the bench.

In his reading of the statute, "it is hard to come up with a reason to use these words other than the purpose of limiting credits to state exchanges," Scalia said.

"We really should start calling the law SCOTUScare," he added, referencing the court’s earlier decision upholding the constitutionality of the law. SCOTUS is the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States.

The ruling will come as a major relief to Obama as he seeks to ensure that his legacy legislative achievement is implemented effectively and survives political and legal attacks before he leaves office in early 2017.

The current system will remain in place, with subsidies available in all 50 states. If the challengers had won, at least 6.4 million people in at least 34 states would have lost subsidies that help low- and moderate-income people afford private health insurance. The average subsidy is $272 per month.

A loss for the Obama administration also could have had a broader impact on insurance markets by deterring younger, healthier people from buying health insurance, which would lead to premiums rising for older, less healthy people who need healthcare most, according to analysts.

The Democratic-backed law aimed to help millions of Americans who lacked any health insurance afford coverage.

The Obama administration has hailed the law as a success, saying 16.4 million previously uninsured people have gained health insurance since it was enacted. There are currently around 26 million people without health insurance, according to government figures.

Leading up the high court's ruling, Obama warned of far-reaching consequences of overturning a law that he said had become "woven into the fabric of America." In a June 9 speech, Obama said taking away health insurance provided under the law to millions of people who need it the most "seems so cynical."

Conservatives have fought Obamacare from its inception, calling it a government overreach and "socialized medicine."

Opponents repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to repeal it in Congress and launched a series of legal challenges. In 2012, Roberts, a conservative appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision that upheld the law on constitutional grounds, siding with the court's four liberals.

The current case started as a long-shot legal challenge by conservative lawyers that oppose the law. Financed by a libertarian Washington group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the lawyers recruited four people from Virginia to be the plaintiffs. The lead plaintiff was a self-employed limousine driver named David King.

They are eligible to receive the subsidies but oppose the measure because they object to the Obamacare "individual mandate," which went into effect in 2014, that requires individuals to obtain health insurance.

A district court judge ruled for the government, as did the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia. But the Supreme Court then agreed to hear it.

The challengers said that the four-word phrase in the law indicates that only people who have bought insurance on state-established exchanges qualify for the tax-credit subsidies.

The Obama administration, backed by the healthcare industry, said other provisions in the law made clear that Congress intended the subsidies to be available nationwide regardless of whether states set up their own exchanges or leave the task to the federal government.

The case is King v. Burwell, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-114.


+13 # REDPILLED 2015-06-25 09:29
Good, but ObamaCare still leaves 35 million Americans uninsured and another 30-plus million underinsured, and still keeps health INSURANCE as a corporate profit-making venture rather than health CARE as a universal human right, as Chapter 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the U.S. in 1948, states.

Only single-payer health care, an improved form of Medicare for All, will make health CARE a universal right in the U.S.

Obama had the chance in 2008 right after his first election, with Democrats in control of the Senate and House, and Obama riding a huge wave of popularity, to use his "bully pulpit" to push for single-payer health care, which a majority of Americans favored. But he and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi took single-payer off the table of discussion so the corporate insurance industry who funded Democrats would not be betrayed. It was easier to betray the American people.

See this: ‘Subsidies upheld, but health needs still unmet’: doctors group | Physicians for a National Health Program
+3 # reiverpacific 2015-06-25 09:51
Well, Roberts answered my previous question as to whether he'd do an about-face from his original vote; quite reassuring.
Of course Scalia, lap-dog superfink Thomas and Ailito were pretty predictable.
What gets me is that there are actually "Conservative" a.k.a. ideologically activist reactionaries in this case, OR "Liberals" on such a high Court, which is empowered to try cases on their legal merit and precedence rather than personal socio-political convictions. Isn't impartially-bas ed decision making on examination of complex evidence why they trained as lawyers in the first place -or am I naively dreaming?
Scalia and Thomas especially, as members of the secretive, elite Catholic cult Opus Dei, sworn to uphold it's restrictive and oppressive dictates, should have never been elected to the highest -or any- bench in the land.
+5 # nogardflow 2015-06-25 10:03
I think it's all an act, the Republicans have to be against the ACA to satisfy their base, but since they don't have a reasonable plan to replace it, overturning it could be costly in the next elections. The way to get around that quandary, is to have the Supreme Court uphold the ACA, since the Justices can't be voted out of office, then if the Republicans can take over the government in the upcoming elections, they can take their time dismantling and defunding the ACA, which has been their plan all along.
0 # Seadog 2015-06-25 10:23
Obama and the Corporate friendly elements of both parties are popping the Champagne corks again today. Yesterday they won on the secret Trade pact fast trac vote and today it's the upholding of Obamaramacare the Corp. version of Healthcare. That Scalia, Thomas, and Alito would have preferred no Healthcare at all for most people was a kind of not very funny dissent. Missing from the whole sorry drama was what most Americans wanted ( Single Payer.) Gov't in the US is hopelessly broken.

+1 # bbaldwin2001 2015-06-25 10:36
Finally the Supreme Court made a GOOD decision. This is wonderful news.

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