With a 6-3 decision announced Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act stands intact.
That is great news for the nation and especially for the 6.4 million or more Americans who would have seen the costs of their insurance policies soar if the latest challenge by opponents had succeeded.
The opposition’s case was absurd and should never have made its way to the Supreme Court. Thankfully, all but three of the nine justices rejected the argument that a one-sentence drafting error should unravel a pillar of the 2010 health care law.
While fine-combing the law in search of flaws , opponents honed in on a sentence that says income-based subsidies should be available for individuals who purchase health plans “through an Exchange established by the state.”
Three dozen states, including Missouri and Kansas, opted not to establish a state exchange. Residents of those states have purchased plans, with subsidies, from a federal exchange established in the law as a backup.
It was always inconceivable to think Congress would have intentionally denied affordable health care plans to citizens because they happen to live in an uncooperative state. No member or staffer of Congress involved in the drafting of the plan has said that was the case. Removal of the subsidies would have created an insurance “death spiral,” driving healthy consumers out of the marketplace and leaving only sick patients who require expensive care.
Fortunately, the court recognized all of that.
“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion
Ever optimistic, we would like to think the resolution of the King v. Burwell case will nudge Republicans into a more constructive posture.
Pledges to “repeal and replace Obamacare” have been a staple of nearly every GOP campaign platform over the last five years. But the failure of congressional Republicans to rally around any sort of backup plan should the court have ruled the wrong way exposes the hollowness of that promise.
More than 25 million Americans have gained health insurance through the various provisions of the Affordable Care Act. They no longer have to forgo medical care or fear financial ruin if they become sick. There is simply no way to dismantle Obamacare without casting those individuals back into the abyss.
Recent polling shows slightly more Americans now support the health care law than oppose it. And a hefty 55 percent appreciate aspects of the law. Fewer than one-third want to see the law repealed.
A new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that dismantling the Affordable Care Act would result in a 19 million increase in the number of uninsured and cause the federal deficit to grow by at least $137 billion over 10 years. Politicians are irresponsible to even contemplate such a disaster.
It’s time for leaders of both parties to seek common ground. Plenty of aspects of the Affordable Care Act and the broader health care landscape need fixing.
Congress could revisit the controversial employer insurance mandate, for example. Members should take a serious look at the lack of transparency and consistency in how hospitals price their services. Consumers need better protection from unfair deductibles and copay provisions in insurance plans.
It’s also past time for Republicans in state legislatures to make the Affordable Care Act work for their citizens. Thousands of low- and-middle-income residents in Missouri and Kansas continue to be priced out of health insurance because their GOP-controlled legislatures (and in Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback) refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility.
These are people who cannot afford to get regular checkups, have necessary medical procedures and fill prescriptions. One excuse obstinate lawmakers have used to resist Medicaid expansion has been the hope the Supreme Court or Congress would one day cut the entire health care law off at the knees.
It’s not happening. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. Lawmakers at all levels must shift their focus to making certain it serves all Americans well.
Another positive ruling
The Supreme Court also refused to close the door on progress in the fight against housing discrimination.
Ruling in a case known as Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. the Inclusive Communities Project Inc., the court said plaintiffs can continue to bring lawsuits under the U.S. Fair Housing Act if they think they can show that a policy has had an unintentional, disproportional negative effect on a minority group. The state of Texas had argued that plaintiffs must prove an attempt to discriminate.
The Inclusive Communities Project had challenged the way Texas awards tax credits to affordable housing developments. The community group argued that the state’s formula gives too much weight to locations where land is cheaply priced. It said the practice causes subsidized housing to be concentrated in poorer, minority communities and leads to segregation.
A ruling in favor of the state would have established a prohibitively high bar to prove housing discrimination.
“The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, in the majority opinion.
After a decision two years ago that struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, there was reason to fear the court would treat the Fair Housing Act in the same manner. Kennedy’s affirmation comes as great news and a huge relief.