Only in America’s troubled political climate could four words in a 906-page law cause such apprehension.
But troubled we are, and so the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, the latest attempt by conservatives to irreparably damage the Affordable Care Act, which continues to show strong results.
Plaintiffs have taken aim at the section of the law that provides subsidies for persons in a certain income range who purchase insurance through the exchanges, or marketplaces, created by the act. The law says the subsidies should be available through the exchanges “established by the state.”
But only 16 states have fully created their own exchanges. The rest, including Missouri and Kansas, use the federal exchange, which the law created as a fallback. Plaintiffs want the court to rule that federal subsidies aren’t available to residents of those 34 states.
Never mind that more than 9 million people, including almost 300,000 in Missouri and 166,000 in Kansas, would lose health insurance. Hospitals and medical providers would take a huge hit, and the private insurance marketplace would be thrown into upheaval. To its strident opponents, anything that harms “Obamacare” is a good outcome.
It is alarming that the Supreme Court has even agreed to hear this case, given a scarcity of rulings in lower courts. One can only hope logic will prevail and the justices will conclude that of course Congress did not intend to write a law that would make subsidies available to residents of some states and not others.
A more functional Congress would simply amend the law and correct the wording. But this is the Congress that had trouble approving a homeland security budget. The chances of its members making a responsible quick fix to avoid havoc are nil.
The administration, possibly posturing, says it doesn’t have a backup plan, either.
It’s very troubling that dysfunctional politics would threaten the medical and financial security of almost 10 million Americans. But here we are, at the door of a courtroom, hoping justices will do the right thing.