from the online Post-Dispatch
Supreme Court sides with Obama in health law case
1 hour ago • By Jordan Shapiro
UPDATED at 9:42 a.m.
In a sweeping victory for President Barack Obama’s administration, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a key tenet of his signature health law.
The decision could be the last significant legal hurdle that the president’s top domestic accomplishment faces.
The court ruled 6-3 that government subsidies to offset the cost of health insurance are available to consumers across the country, regardless of whether they bought coverage on the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, or a state-based website.
Residents in Missouri, Illinois and nearly three dozen other states all use HealthCare.gov to purchase individual health insurance policies.
At stake were subsidies, and likely insurance coverage, for more than 6 million Americans, including 200,000 Missourians and 230,000 Illinoisans.
The plaintiffs in the case argued that subsidies were only available to consumers who lived in the 14 states that established their own web-based insurance exchanges. The administration countered that all consumers could draw down a federal subsidy to buy insurance.
“Those credits are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result Congress plainly meant to avoid,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority.
The law says tax credits are available to consumers who bought coverage on an exchange “established by the state.” But the law also provides that the federal government shall operate “such exchange” in a state that opted not to create their own.
In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the plain language of the Affordable Care Act clearly restricted subsidies to consumers who purchased coverage on a state exchange.
“Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved,” Scalia wrote, adding the law should be called “SCOTUScare.”
Advocates and administration officials had embarked on a public relations campaign for weeks highlighting the importance of subsidies to the law’s overall goal of making health insurance more affordable.
They were coy on any contingency plans if the subsidies were struck down, but they did forecast a grim picture if the court sided against the administration. Those receiving subsidies would have no longer been able to afford coverage and premiums would have risen dramatically for everyone else. That potential fallout appeared to influence the high court.
“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them,” Roberts wrote.
St. Louis resident Katie Norvell, a 35-year-old music therapist, was one of those who risked losing their insurance coverage. She receives about $100 a month to subsidize her health plan.
“It would just be really difficult for me to afford my insurance,” she said about losing her subsidy.
Experts and analysts say Thursday’s ruling could mark the last significant legal hurdle to Obama’s health law. It previously survived a 2012 Supreme Court case challenging the law’s mandate that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Roberts also wrote the court’s opinion in that case.