By Frank Lewis
Two different circuit courts ruled two different ways Tuesday in the legal challenge to the U.S. government’s distribution of subsidies to people who purchased health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The case, Halbig v. Burwell, heard in the District of Columbia (DC) court, involved the availability of subsidies on federally operated insurance marketplaces. The language of the Affordable Care Act plainly says that subsidies are only available on exchanges established by states. The plaintiff argued this meant that the law meant just what it says, subsidies could only be available on exchanges established by states. Since he lives in a state with a federally operated exchange, his exchange would then be considered as having illegally handed out subsidies.
The government argued when you consider the law in its totality, it said, the federal government obviously never meant to exclude federally operated exchanges from the subsidy pool, because that would gut the whole law. The appeals court disagreed with the government, 2-1. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million people may lose their subsidies as a result.
However, two hours later, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court ruled the opposite in King, Hurst, Levy and Lerch vs. Sylvia Matthews Burwell as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Jacob Lew as head of the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, saying the Obama administrations practice of handing out billions of dollars in subsidies to people who had not bought on state exchanges, but had purchased their coverage on the U.S. government exchanges, was perfectly fine, endorsing the administrations appropriations.
What this all means now is the case will be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH-6), says it all means problems for southern Ohio residents.
“The court’s ruling today is further evidence that President Obama’s takeover of health care is unworkable and unsustainable. The American people were told by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi that ‘we need to pass it to find out what is in it,’ and now we see yet another illustration of what happens when sweeping legislation is quickly forced through Congress with little real debate and absolutely no bipartisan support,” Johnson said. “However, no matter what this court said today (Tuesday), or any court may say tomorrow or down the road, I will continue to work with anyone willing to repeal this burdensome law. Despite today’s (Tuesday’s) ruling, hardworking taxpayers in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, and across the country, will continue to see their premiums rise, and their health care choices minimized. Americans deserve affordable, patient-centered solutions that put individuals and their doctors back in charge of health care decisions – not unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.”
Two similar cases remain pending in Indiana and Oklahoma.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 1928, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.