Four Little Words That Could Kill Obamacare

Brianna Ehley,  The Fiscal Times

Right now, the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a case that could have devastating implications for Obamacare and hundreds of thousands of people currently receiving health insurance through its exchanges.
The case, King v. Burwell, is one of several challenges based on language in the Affordable Care Act that authorizes the government to offer subsidies to people who enroll in policies sold on the health exchanges. The subsidies were introduced to make health care coverage more affordable, but the lawsuits charge that the wording of the Affordable Care Act doesn’t allow for federal subsidies.

Related: Obamacare Subsidies Could Still Face Supreme Court

The issue lies with four words in the law. The language reads that people are eligible for subsidies when they purchase health insurance on an exchange “established by the state.”

The plaintiffs in these cases argue that since the law doesn’t explicitly mention the federal exchange, people who sign up for coverage in any of the 34 states that rely on the federal portal, HealthCare.gov, are not legally eligible to receive subsidies.

If the court sides with them, anyone who signed up through HealthCare.gov and received a subsidy — some 4.6 million people — would have to pay more for their coverage unless Congress amends the law.

This year, 85 percent of Obamacare enrollees received federal subsidies.

Related: Obamacare Subsidy Overpayments: How to Recoup?

The cases, including the more well-known Halbig v. Burwell, have sparked great concern among lawmakers and Obamacare advocates, who fear that an unfavorable ruling could derail the entire health care law.

“That’d be a huge deal. The tax credits, worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year, are what make it possible for these people to afford coverage in the first place,” Jonathan Cohn writes in The New Republic. “Take away those subsidies and many become uninsured and the system in those states more or less collapses—an outcome that supporters of the lawsuits have said openly they desire.”

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