A ruling that gets a big sigh of relief

The Observer editorial board

What does it say that there was widespread relief Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a critical provision in the controversial Affordable Care Act?

It says that maybe Obamacare is no longer so controversial.

The Court saved the ACA for a second time Thursday, but unlike the complicated rationale Chief Justice John Roberts offered in 2012, his reasoning for upholding Obamacare’s subsidies was rather simple: The court, he said, shouldn’t do to the ACA what its authors didn’t intend to do.

Said Roberts: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health care insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

The ruling cemented Obamacare’s legal standing, as opponents are running out of legitimate ideas to challenge it. The only real threat to the law now is political – if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016, the door would be open for a Republican majority in Congress to pass an Obamacare repeal.

But we learned something about the Affordable Care Act in the days and months leading up to the court’s decision: A lot of people were worried Obamacare would go away.

460,000 North Carolinians would have seen their premiums rise without federal subsidies

13 percent drop in N.C. uninsured in ACA’s first year

That includes the estimated 6 million in states such as North Carolina whose premiums would have risen dramatically had the federal exchange subsidies been snatched away.

That also included governors and legislators who fretted about what to do if subsidies were eliminated and the number of uninsured spiked.

As one of those governors, North Carolina’s Pat McCrory, told the Washington Post in March: “There’s no B plan.”

There’s at least one reason for that: Plan A is working. Fewer people are uninsured, including an estimated 13 percent less in North Carolina after the law’s first year. They are getting good coverage previously unavailable, especially to those with preexisting conditions.

Yes, health care costs continue to rise – as they did prior to Obamacare – and there remains more bumps ahead as many small businesses will be required to offer insurance next year. But Obamacare is far from the costly, chaotic disaster Republicans predicted.

In fact, when Republicans turned to the Congressional Budget Office to see how much they could save by repealing the law, the CBO reported last week that getting rid of the ACA would increase the deficit by at least $127 billion over the next 10 years.

Despite that, Republicans will still call for Obamacare’s demise. After Thursday’s ruling, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina assured his constituents that he remains “fully committed to a full repeal and replacement.”

But as McHenry looks around to see who’s with him, he’ll find an army that’s getting smaller and less passionate. Americans are understanding in greater numbers that the Affordable Care Act needs tweaking, not repealing.

We hope at least some Republicans got one step closer to realizing that Thursday. Instead of the vast outrage that met the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012, we saw more relief, especially in states where subsidies were threatened. There was no Plan B, but there doesn’t have to be. Obamacare isn’t going anywhere.