Conservative Federal Appeals Court Strikes Huge Blow to Obamacare

4952166117_a1683a1242_z.jpgHealthcare is a human right, and the pursuit of that is one of our main missions here at Metro Justice. While there are some issues with current healthcare reform, it has made health coverage accessible to millions, and has saved lives. This latest blow on reform will prohibit subsidies for those in states where there is only a federal health exchange. States like New York have their own exchange and won't be affected. 

While low income New Yorkers won't have to worry about a loss of healthcare subsidy, we're in the minority. Thirty six states either have refused to set up a state exchange, or state-run programs refuse to offer subsidy-oriented services. Steven Rosenfeld's article, published on Alternet goes deeper into why this ruling is damaging to low-income Americans. While there is chance that this ruling could be appealed, any interruption to service can mean disaster to those who are in immediate need of health services.

In the meantime, how can we stand up for those in need of affordable care? How do we let our judicial system know that health care is a right, and not a privilege?

(Image credit: Jasleen_Kaur under Creative Commons 2.0 lisence)


A conservative-dominated federal appeals court has issued a major ruling Tuesday banning Obamacare’s federally run health insurance exchanges from providing billions in premium subsidies to residents of the 36 states it serves.

The 2-1 ruling by the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington held that the subsidies—which are paid  by the government to insurers and make the policies more affordable—can be granted only to those people who bought insurance in state-run exchanges or in the District of Columbia — not on the federally run exchange HealthCare.gov.

(more after the flip)

“Section 36B plainly makes subsidies available in the Exchanges established by states,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph in his majority opinion, where he was joined by Judge Thomas Griffith “We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance. At least until states that wish to can set up their own Exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly.”

The federal government runs these exchanges in states where Republicans have refused to implement the law or where state-run exchanges failed to offer the services under the health law. In 2016, more than $35 billion in Obvamacare subsidies were slated to make health care more affordable nationwide.

Thought the 2-1 ruling will likely be appealed, it is a big victory for Obamacare opponents and complicates the law. The ruling comes in a case brought by anti-Obamacare crusaders who sought to take advantage of the loose legal language in that law—and apparently found a federal court where the sitting judges were hostile to Obamacare during hearings and again in its ruling, according to Timothy Jost, a Washington and Lee School of Law professor who has been following the case for the Balkinization blog

“The subsection of the Affordable Care Act dealing with computing the amount of the premium tax credits that make insurance affordable to lower and middle income Americans says that those credits should go to individuals enrolled “through an exchange established by the state,” Jost wrote late last week, reviewing the case. “But two thirds of the states are not operating their own health insurance exchanges, and are rather served by the federally facilitated exchange. In 2012, the IRS issued a rule authorizing the federal exchange to issue tax credits.  ACA opponents… argue it is illegal. Both federal courts that have ruled on their claims have held that, considering the entire statute and its purpose and history, the IRS interpretation of the provision is correct. Both decisions are on appeal.”

In other words, Tuesday’s ruling by the Washington federal appeals court is not the last word. Jost noted that conservatives on the three-judge panel were openly hostile to the law in open court. 

“The case was argued on March 25, 2014 to a three-judge panel consisting of Judges A. Raymond Randolph, Harry Edwards, and Thomas Griffith,” he wrote. “Almost from the moment the argument began, Judge Randolph expressed his profound dislike of the Affordable Care Act. He also demonstrated a profound misunderstanding of the history of the statute, and of the statute itself.”

Jost said that the conservative judges misread the legislative history of the law and used sloppy legislative drafting—less precise rather than more precise language—during the case’s trial phase.

“One hopes that by the time the D.C. Circuit announces a decision in this case, the judges will have reread the briefs and supporting record and have corrected any erroneous first impressions,” he wrote. “This case is too important to be decided on wrong information… A decision for the plaintiffs could deprive residents of 34 states of $36 billion in tax credits by 2016 and could cause the non-group market to collapse in those states.  The ensuing disruption of the health care system will bring financial ruin to many families and, ultimately, will cost lives.  The courts have to get this right.”

Unfortunately, this federal court did not get it right, as Jost put it. But it will not be the final word on this case or feature of the Obamacare law. Look for announcements later on Tuesday that the ruling will be appealed and that the Obama Administration will file motions to suspend the ruling until that future day in court.

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