By a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court Thursday announced a decision upholding the Obamacare law, ruling that those who get health insurance through federal exchanges are eligible for tax subsidies. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the Court, affirming the decision of the Fourth Circuit court of appeals in the case of King v. Burwell.
In this instance, 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 . . . Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.
The case was over language in the law which stated that only those who buy their insurance in state-run exchanges would qualify for subsidies. Supporters of the law argued that this was a mistake, and that the law was clearly intended to cover those who enlisted on the federal exchange. The Justices clearly agreed.
As he did the last time Obamacare was challenged, Roberts joined liberals on the Court in upholding the law. But so this time did Anthony Kennedy, who in the previous case had voted to strike down key elements of the statute. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia all said the plain language of the law, which denies subsidies to those not on state exchanges, should be adhered to.
Scalia wrote the dissent. He said the law should now be called “SCOTUScare.”
Had Obamacare opponents prevailed, the results could have been devastating for the law. According to the Associated Press:
Nationally, 10.2 million people have signed up for health insurance under the Obama health overhaul. That includes the 8.7 million people who are receiving an average subsidy of $272 a month to help pay their insurance premiums. Of those receiving subsidies, 6.4 million people were at risk of losing that aid because they live in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges.
As expected, Kagan, Sotomoyer, Ginsburg and Breyer all agreed that those on federal exchanges should receive subsidies.