Obamacare watchers fretting over imminent premium subsidy ruling
Perhaps even more than the Hobby Lobby contraceptive coverage case, Obamacare watchers are biting their nails waiting for a ruling this week in a case that could determine whether millions of Americans can keep their insurance premium subsidies.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is expected to rule in Halbig v. Burwell on whether the premium tax credits for as many as 6.5 million Americans in the 36 states using the federal insurance exchange are legal. The issue is whether the Internal Revenue Service’s rule implementing the law is consistent with the law’s language that says tax credits to buy insurance will be provided to people who get insurance “through an exchange established by the state.”
Two federal district judges have said that the law in its entirety makes clear that Congress intended the subsidies for qualifying people in every state. But during oral arguments in March, two judges on the three-judge appellate panel expressed support for the challengers’ position.
Experts say the loss of subsidies could unravel the individual insurance market in those 36 states, because sicker people would find a way to keep their coverage, while healthier people would drop out.
The Halbig case, one of four similar challenges to the law working their way through the courts, is expected to reach the Supreme Court, giving Chief Justice John Roberts a second chance to roll back the law and please conservatives who blasted him for voting to uphold the individual mandate two years ago.
Meanwhile, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., is mulling the same question in King v. Sebelius, though the three-judge panel there was seen as less friendly to the plaintiffs’ arguments.