No decision will be issued before late June doubtlessly, but today the Supreme Court heard arguments about a clause in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that reads as limiting health insurance subsidies to those who purchase policies on state-run exchanges. The phrase — “established by the state” — is at the center of the debate in King v. Burwell.
If the court concurs with that interpretation, millions of individuals who purchased policies on HealthCare.gov will lose their subsidies and could even be required to pay back what they’ve already received, plunging the whole Obamacare world into chaos.
In an 80-minute session, 10 minutes longer than scheduled, the administration and the plaintiffs argued back and forth on the language and whether it is as restrictive as it sounds.
The four liberal justices clearly voiced the opinion that the phrase does not limit health care subsidies. “We don’t look at four words,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “We look at the whole text.”
Chief Justice John Roberts was virtually silent the whole time. (Remember that it was his almost uncharacteristic split from the conservative block that allowed Obamacare to proceed in the first place.)
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who previously sided with the conservatives on the ACA, found trouble with both sides of the argument, judging by his line of questioning and comments.
Justice Samuel A. Alito, who clearly favors a strict interpretation of the wording, said the court might delay the implementation date of its decision to give both the states and the federal government time to find alternatives or solutions.
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