The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a 2-1 partial decision have reached jaw dropping, absurd conclusion that would potentially take away the Affordable Care Act’s insurance subsidies from people in over half the country.
The case is Halbig v. Burwell and it is based on a very contrived reading the law that completely ignores context and the entire Congressional record. Basically a group of employers are suing claiming the insurance tax credits can’t be provided to people in states where the exchanges are run by the federal government because that provision says tax credits are only for people enrolled in plans, “through an Exchange established by the State.”
This decision is incredible because never during the the months of debate was there any indication that a member of Congress thought the law should be read the way the court did. While on the other hand there is overwhelmingly evidence in the Congressional record and official CBO analysis that everyone assumed the law would allow subsidies on federally run exchanges. In addition many other provisions of the law, like those allowing for the creation of a federally run exchange where states fail to set up their own, would make zero logical sense if you follow the court’s tortured interpretation.
If the ruling stands it would mean several million Americans in states with federally run exchanges would lose their subsidies and likely lose their insurance as a result. It would also likely cause premiums to dramatically increase even for people who didn’t qualify for subsidies as healthy people leave the exchange.
It is unlikely the ruling will stand though. The Obama administration will likely ask the entire D.C. Circuit to review the decision “en banc.” The 11 members of the full court are more Democratic leaning than this three judge panel.
Image by Neff Connor under Creative Commons license