Sharply divided along familiar lines, the Supreme Court took up a politically charged new challenge to President Barack Obama’s health overhaul Wednesday in a dispute over the tax subsidies that make insurance affordable for millions of Americans. A decision is expected by late June.
What the case is about
The justices are trying to determine whether the law makes people in all 50 states eligible for federal tax subsidies to cut the cost of insurance premiums. Opponents say that only residents of states that set up their own insurance markets can get federal subsidies to help pay the premiums. The Carolinas did not.
Impact in North Carolina
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More than 500,000 in the state stand to lose subsidized health coverage based on the challenge. It would quickly lead to rate spikes, experts say, with the healthiest people dropping their coverage.
The key arguments
Against the subsidies: Washington attorney Michael Carvin argued that a key passage in the law – “established by the state” – made clear that tax subsidies are available only in the small number of states that established their own exchanges.
For the subsidies: Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that Congress would not have said states were free to rely on a federal exchange, and then bar anyone from getting aid on that type of exchange.
A court divided
▪ Justice Antonin Scalia said: “It may not be the statute they intended. The question is whether it’s the statute that they wrote.”
▪ Justice Elena Kagan said: “We don’t look at four words. We look at the whole text.”
Possible key justices
Chief Justice John Roberts, whose vote saved the health law three years ago, and Justice Anthony Kennedy. Roberts said almost nothing.
Kennedy said he was troubled a ruling would take away tax subsidies in 37 states. But he also said: “It may well be that you’re correct as to these words, and there’s nothing we can do.”
In 2012, Roberts joined the liberal justices to uphold the law. Kennedy sided with the conservative justices.