The Supreme Court voted to uphold Affordable Care Act subsidies — even in the 34 states that use the federal exchanges. Six justices voted to uphold the tax credits, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion.
The decision is a major win for the Obama administration and the health-care law, which has managed to survive the Supreme Court twice. Lawmakers no longer have to worry about coming up with a Plan B for how to help insure poor Americans, a problem that few politicians were having any luck solving.
The justices were tasked with deciding in King v. Burwell whether the portion of the law dealing with subsidies was simply the victim of some sloppy drafting in Congress, or whether the bill never intended to provide subsidies to those hoping to buy health insurance in states that didn’t build exchanges.
A significant number of those buying Obamacare insurance used subsidies, and it would be impossible for those who need insurance most to pay for the premiums without tax credits. "So," Roberts writes, "it stands to reason that Congress meant for those provisions to apply in every State as well." He continued:
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt
The words quite absurd, eccentric, and pure applesauce, also appeared in the dissent.
President Obama spoke at the White House shortly after the decision was announced. He listed all the reasons he was proud of the law, despite the many setbacks it has faced — stopping insurers from discriminating against consumers because of preexisting conditions and getting millions of uninsured Americans insurance, for example. He said, "It’s okay" that plenty of people still hate Obamacare, despite the fact that they are probably benefiting from a few of its provisions, noting that the changes don’t come with a card that says "Obamacare" on it.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 54 percent of Americans oppose the health-care law, but 55 percent also believed that the court shouldn’t strike down the subsidies. In other words, people are majorly confused about what the law is actually doing and what they should feel about it. Given that the 2016 presidential election is going to involve many Republican candidates explaining how they would replace the law — and Democratic candidates talking about how they would improve it — in highly charged political settings, the confusion is probably going to stick around for a while.
Obama said the thing he wanted to focus on next, health-care-wise, is convincing governors and state legislatures that don’t think too fondly of the president to expand Medicaid — especially since the federal government has promised to foot most of the bill.
“This is a good day for America,” he concluded. “Let’s get back to work.”
Reactions came quick, unsurprisingly, as everyone already had an opinion on the Affordable Care Act before today — an opinion that remained much the same after the Supreme Court’s decision. Those who supported Obamacare — including a few presidential candidates — rejoiced that they didn’t have to worry about planning a funeral …
… while conservatives, who have always opposed the legislation, rendered the decision in apocalyptic terms, or at least made ominous statements warning that Obamacare will never be safe. Republicans hoping to replace Obama in the White House were especially action-oriented.
Over at the Capitol and in consulting firms across the country, there were plenty of Republicans who seemed relieved that King v. Burwell ended this way.
Obamacare opponents are excited to discuss health care during the 2016 debates; however, they were less excited about having to figure out how to possibly pass a fix to the law with the current legislative climate, while millions of Americans were once again unable to afford insurance in the meantime. Consultant Rick Wilson told the Washington Post that he has been telling clients that if the subsidies evaporated, "you’re going to spend the next year and a half getting ads run against you where a weeping Hispanic woman looks at the camera and says ‘They took away my son’s health care. Now he’s dead.’"
Not that that stopped people from complaining about the law, of course. The frustration inspired some Obamacare opponents to come up with new words, like ConsumerCare and Obamnesty.
And plenty of conservatives are not happy with Roberts and the Supreme Court, now that they have saved the Affordable Care Act twice.
Plenty of celebrities made sure to share their thoughts on the decision, too — or at least take advantage of the opportunity to make jokes.