The Supreme Court this morning issued its decision on King v. Burwell, the landmark case to determine whether Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) will continue or will in some form go away. The Court decided that the law will continue, and that a minor language issue will not be used to basically cancel the law.
The law sets up insurance exchanges that offer choices to individuals who would otherwise not be able to purchase coverage at a reasonable costs. Millions of people who get their medical insurance that way receive federal subsidies to make the insurance more affordable.
The catch in the law that led to today’s Court decision is that the subsidies, according to the way the law was written, were for people who got their insurance through a state created exchange. Thirty-four states did not set up their own exchanges, so residents of those states needing coverage purchased through a federal exchange.
At issue was a suit brought by four plaintiffs who asked that the law be interpreted literally, so that people in states that operated only a federal exchange would lose their subsidies. The Obama Administration and others argued that subsidies were clearly indicated for everyone in the country, regardless of whether particular states acted.
Since the Supreme Court heard arguments in King v. Burwell last March, the nation’s punditry in print, on the air or on cable wrote and spoke millions of words about all the dire consequences that would occur if the Court ruled against the law. The personal impact of a negative court ruling would have fallen disproportionately on states with Republican control of state houses and seats in Congress. Various plans were prepared in Congress to deal with continuing insurance subsidies for those people who would be affected by the court decision. No consensus ever developed, however, among Republican senators and House members for a solution to the potential problem.
The vote in the Court in the King v. Burwell case was six to three. The four Democratic president appointed justices were joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, who were both appointed by Republican presidents. As to why Roberts and Kennedy joined the other four justices in the majority decision, I think the answer is rather simple, a matter of politics. Here is what I wrote in a March 31 post:
So What Will the Court Decide in June?
Who knows? is a fair answer. But a blog is entitled to take an educated guess.
I know someone who believes that courts are required to decide cases strictly on the basis of what is in the law, rather than on any political basis. Many of us, however, see things more politically. And in the case of Supreme Court decisions over the past few years, it is hard to argue that the political tinge of the Justices doesn’t color their decisions. So here is one opinion about the King v. Burwell opinion.
Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas will vote Republican. Scratch that, will vote in favor of the plaintiffs to overrule the law.
Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor will vote Democrat; er, in favor of upholding the law.
Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority to uphold the constitutionality of the ACA in 2012, allowing the law to go into effect. He will not now want to be the justice who kills one of the major pieces of social legislation in the past 100 years. He will vote to uphold the law.
Justice Kennedy voted against upholding the constitutionality of the law in 2012. But he has raised an issue about whether finding for the plaintiffs will in effect “coerce” the states into needing to provide for the medical insurance for those who would otherwise lose their coverage. On that basis, he will uphold the law.
Bottom line, the Supreme Court will by a vote of six to three uphold the continued operation of the ACA. You read it here first.
Undoubtedly Republican members of Congress will now resume their efforts to repeal the law. The Supreme Court, however, has eliminated the need for Congress or state governments to figure out a way to maintain the federal insurance subsidies that would have been cancelled if the Court struck down the ACA. The fact that there was so much discussion in Republican circles about continuing the subsidies if the law went down seems to indicate and validate the need for such coverage.