June 25, 2015

SCOTUS upholds ACA subsidies, Obamacare stays

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The United States Supreme Court dealt a blow this morning to efforts to handicap the Affordable Care Act subsidies provision by deciding 6-3 that federal subsidies for Americans seeking health insurance through state-based exchanges are legal.

The U.S. Supreme Court, 2015

See the reactions to the ruling from New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

Republican opponents of the law sued to have those subsidies, essentially providing  discounts on premiums for health policies offered through health exchanges, declared improper because the language of the ACA provided for those subsidies only through state-based exchanges, they argued. The argument said the law did not allow for subsidies in states that relied on the federal exchange instead of those created by the state themselves.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a decision for the majority.

Though New Mexico has a state health exchange office, residents have been using the federal exchange to sign up for health care through the landmark law.  The state announced plans earlier this year to abandon plans to create a state-based exchange for New Mexico.

Earlier this year, the state announced that 52,358 people had enrolled in private plans through the exchange in New Mexico.  Of those, 76 percent qualified for subsidies.

Kevin Russell of SCOTUSblog, a widely-read Supreme Court legal blog, noted this important passage from the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

After acknowledging the strength of the plain language arguments from the challengers, the majority says “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.”

Chief Justice John Roberts joined other more traditionally liberal justices in deciding this case. In addition to Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan all agreed to uphold the subsidies for those using the federal exchange.

Republicans in Congress have voted almost 60 times to repeal all or parts of the Affordable Care Act since it was passed in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court has now twice affirmed the law as constitutional despite hearing challenges to the law.

In 2012, the nation’s high court upheld the law as constitutional, saying that it fell under Congress’ power to levy taxes.

The law is considered a major part of President Barack Obama’s legacy. A with other portions of Obama’s legacy, political opponents have challenged them in court.

Note: New Mexico Political Report initially posted an early version of this story. We regret the error.

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