The threats to Obamacare just keep on coming.
A case before the U.S. District Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia may determine the Affordable Care Act was written in such a way that it prevents the federal government’s HealthCare.gov web site from offering subsidies.
Now such a ruling would have a long way to go before it actually would become enacted — and a lot of legal hoops would have to be jumped through — but such a finding could be a show-stopper for Obamacare. More than 5 million of the 8 million who signed up for Obamacare through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ web site would thus not be eligible for tax credits. Most, presumably, would fall off the rolls of the insured.
The case that could be ruled upon as early as Tuesday is known as Halbig v. Burwell, formerly Halbig v. Sebelius. CNBC reported Monday two of the three judges who heard the case in March indicated they might rule in favor of the plaintiffs. And an op-ed piece in last week’s Los Angeles Times noted that lower courts may follow the Supreme Court’s lead, which has ruled the Obama administration has overstepped its bounds in recent cases.
There are at least three other similar cases to Halbig. They all contend that the ACA was written to grant subsidies only to people in states that have established their own health-insurance exchanges. It was something the federal government could not have foreseen, since it expected all states to set up their own networks, but only 16 states and the District of Columbia accomplished that task. Thirty-four states are using the federal government’s HealthCare.gov web site to find health coverage.
Phrasing in the law uses the words “established by the State” as opposed to “established under this Act” and plaintiffs in the cases have construed that to mean exchanges only established by a state. But the Halbig case, along with another in Virginia, were dismissed earlier this year when lower-court judges found the arguments for the plaintiffs to be off base, since the ACA’s subsidies clearly were meant for those in states where the federal government had to step in to establish the exchange.
Both Halbig and the Virginia case will be ruled upon by appeals courts. Two other cases are awaiting rulings on motions to dismiss those cases by district judges.
Should Halbig prevail, it’s expected the Obama administration will appeal immediately to all judges at the D.C. Circuit Court, and then it would go on to the Supreme Court from there. It’s not guaranteed, though, that the high court would hear the case. Obama administration officials are mum on the case until there is a ruling in the D.C. court.
One question that remains unanswered: Why didn’t Obamacare opponents in Congress key in on this when the law was being implemented late last year and early this year?
[by Russ Britt, writing for MARKETWATCH]
As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis