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Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies, 6-3, Protecting Benefits For 1.3 Million Floridians

| June 25, 2015

barack obama obamacare

He wins again, with the help of conservatives on the Supreme Court. (White House)

Some 1.3 million Floridians and 5 million more across the country will not lose their health insurance subsidies as the U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled decisively, by a 6-3 vote, that the subsidies are legal and must remain in place, even in states that have not established their own health insurance exchanges.


The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts–who provided the crucial vote in a 5-4 decision upholding the fundamentals of the Affordable Care Act in 2012–was joined this time by another conservative, Anthony Kennedy, and provided the Obama administration a big win on a politically fraught issue.

“This was a good day for America,” Obama said in a 10-minute speech at the White House just before noon. “Let’s get back to work.”

The decision hinged on the interpretation of just four words in the Affordable Care Act that the Virginia plaintiffs said preempted the federal government from offering tax subsidies to recipients of insurance under Obamacare unless those recipients live in states that have their own health exchanges. Most states, including Florida, refused to set up those exchanges, but consumers were free to access the federal health exchange marketplace instead.

In Florida, upwards of 1.3 million residents receive subsidies under Obamacare, as do 6,000 residents in Flagler County.

“This was a long shot I thought from the very beginning,” Jeffrey Toobin, the legal analyst, said on CNN in the wake of the ruling. “This is an interpretation of the law, of these four words, that not a single member of Congress said they thought was the correct interpretation.”

“In this instance, the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase,” Roberts’s opinion reads.

Justices Kennedy, Ruth Baber Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor and Helena Kagan joined Roberts’s majority opinion. Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented. Scalia read the dissent from the bench.

“The combination of these three reforms—insurance market regulations, a coverage mandate, and tax credits—reduced the uninsured rate in Massachusetts to 2.6 percent, by far the lowest in the Nation,” Roberts wrote ion his introductory arguments, tracing the history of the Affordable Care Act to its progenitor in Massachusetts, during the governorship of Mitt Romney. “The Affordable Care Act adopts a version of the three key reforms that made the Massachusetts system successful.” The words, seemingly just a history lesson, are significant and surprising as a strong endorsement of the law by Roberts.

Roberts then tackled the plaintiffs’ argument. “If the statutory language is plain, we must enforce it according to its terms,” he wrote. But oftentimes the ‘meaning—or ambiguity—of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.’,” he wrote, citing a 2000 case.

After analyzing the wording of the law, Roberts wrote: “The upshot of all this is that the phrase ‘an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]’ is properly viewed as ambiguous. The phrase may be limited in its reach to State Exchanges. But it is also possible that the phrase refers to all Exchanges—both State and Federal—at least for purposes of the tax credits. If a State chooses not to follow the directive in Section 18031 that it establish an Exchange, the Act tells the Secretary to establish ‘such Exchange.’ §18041. And by using the words ‘such Exchange,’ the Act indicates that State and Federal Exchanges should be the same. But State and Federal Exchanges would differ in a fundamental way if tax credits were available only on State Exchanges—one type of Exchange would help make insurance more affordable by providing billions of dollars to the States’ citizens; the other type of Exchange would not.”

The chief justice concedes that the “Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” and that Congress wrote key parts of the law in secret, passing it through the “reconciliation” process–a legislative maneuver that skirts certain obstacles in the Senate. “As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation,” the opinion reads. “An Exchange established by the State” is one of those ambiguous phrases, he writes. Which turns the meaning of the phrase back to the law’s larger context.

Roberts finds the plaintiffs’ argument that Congress meant the phrase to be taken literally “implausible.”

“Those credits,” Roberts concludes, referring to the subsidies, “are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.”

He was not done, reserving the opinion’s strongest words to a form of concluding commandment in the final three paragraphs of the ruling: “A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan,” Roberts wrote. “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.”

Scalia’s dissent focuses on the decision’s reasoning while leaving silent the politically-motivated decisions of states not to establish the exchanges (most states that did not do so, Florida included, did so because of political opposition to Obamacare): “Worst of all for the repute of today’s decision, the Court’s reasoning is largely self-defeating. The Court predicts that making tax credits unavailable in States that do not set up their own Exchanges would cause disastrous economic consequences there. If that is so, however, wouldn’t one expect States to react by setting up their own Exchanges? And wouldn’t that outcome satisfy two of the Act’s goals rather than just one: enabling the Act’s reforms to work and promoting state involvement in the Act’s implementation? The Court protests that the very existence of a federal fallback shows that Congress expected that some States might fail to set up their own Exchanges. […] So it does. It does not show, however, that Congress expected the number of recalcitrant States to be particularly large. The more accurate the Court’s dire economic predictions, the smaller that number is likely to be. That reality destroys the Court’s pretense that applying the law as written would imperil “the viability of the entire Affordable Care Act.”

King v. Burwell, Obamacare Decision (2015)

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37 Responses for “Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies, 6-3, Protecting Benefits For 1.3 Million Floridians”

  1. Obama 2015 says:

    So again how many millions or dollars did the GOP waste to kill this law when it could have gone in voters pockets or to create jobs.

  2. a tasty bacon sidedish says:

    Hahahaha oh boy, let the Republican tears flow. Poor scalia was so maaad when he wrote that dissent.

  3. Lancer says:

    So, in other words, responsible taxpayers and insurance owners, grab your wallets and prepare to dole out the additional $270+ per month, per person for 0bamacare. Ignore your own premium increases and enjoy an additional entitlement program. Taking care of yourself and families needs are you just being greedy! It’s another in the 80+ programs and over $22 trillion we’ve spent that has had no impact, whatsoever, in our poverty rates over the decades.

    …but, it gives everyone emotional satisfaction and the left a new slogan to use during elections,”if you vote for “whomever” they’ll take away your healthcare!”.

    carry on, nothing to see here, just big government being big government.

    • Obama 2015 says:

      Prepare to dole out the additional $270+ per month…

      You doled out much more per month when people went to the ER without being required to purchase insurance.

      Plus this was a republican idea that Romney used in MASS and was pushed by the republicans when Clinton was president.

      Did Fox News and Internet Memes change your mind ?

  4. Obama 2015 says:

    When was the last time a Republican President helped 1.3 Million Floridians

    • Lancer says:

      Interesting…

      By “help” you mean…create an entitlement program that someone else pays for through threat of force or, since there’s a mandate, penalty of payment.

      Welcome to the USSA!

      5-10 years from now, healthcare will still be a disaster and we will have spent billions. The left will create another boogie man scape goat and single payer, full tilt government control will be the order of the day.

      Have a healthcare complaint as a lower or middle class citizen? Take a number. Meanwhile, the “evil, despicable wealthy” will still get better care…like they do everywhere in the world.

      Well done, well done.

      • Obama 2015 says:

        Give me a break with this USSA comments. Stop going to Wal Mart and the Dollar tree if you’re afraid of Communism. Alot of made in RED china items in those store that is putting money into their economy.

        The ACA/Obamacare gave 1.3 million Floridians (republicans get sick and are poor too) a tax break to get health insurance they couldn’t afford because the insurance companies regulated and increase their services on their own.

        In most cases you have to claim the tax break on your taxes so you’re not getting it for free.

        Also everyone should have a policy in the event they get sick and need medical treatment.

        Why would you live your life without insurance and then pay full price for a blood test you need twice a year at $500 each?

        Isn’t that what the GOP keeps saying.

        Put the money in the people’s hands and personal responsibility? At least when I turn on fox news that is all I hear them saying..

        • Lancer says:

          Give me a break on the “fox news” comments.

          Further, when you start adding the nonsense of 0bamacare, are you taking into account the buy outs given to the insurance companies?

          So…not only are we, the taxpayers, taking on $270+/month/enrollee, we also finance a annual bailout to the insurance companies. Meanwhile, our premiums, co-pays and deductibles all increase.

          Why? There’s no competition, only government mandates.

          It’s all be design that this is doomed to fail. The left will only create a new boogie man (my guess is insurance companies) and push their single payer dream forward. VA care…here we come.

  5. Knightwatch says:

    Take that health care deniers! Conservatives across the country, most professing to be good Christians, have “prayed” that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) subsidies would be overturned so something like 6.4 million Americans would lose their unearned, undeserved taxpayer-subsidized insurance. After all, health care in America is a privilege for those who can afford it, not a right to be enjoyed by all. But, by a 6-3 margin, the SCOTUS clearly said, once again, UP YOURS conservatives

    You lost on Obamacare, you lost your racist battle flag, you’re going to lose the LBGT/ gay marriage issue, and eventually, you’re going to lose your guns. It takes awhile, but after we exhaust all other options we Americans usually do what’s right (or left, I guess).

    • Allen says:

      Knightwatch,

      You are on a slippery slope. Much like ICIS, the evil ones want to abolish all things Confederate. Next they will want to abolish the racist US flag. After all, the Declaration and Constitution were written by evil white slave owners. They will want to blow up the Jefferson Memorial in Washington City and cleans anything to do with the evil white racist founding fathers. It won’t be long until the US is just another third world country.

      • Knightwatch says:

        Allen, it must be very painful to be on the wrong side of history and have such a pessimistic view of America’s future. Try to adjust.

  6. Sherry E says:

    Well said “Obama 2015 says”. . . the complete political obstructionist in Congress and state houses who waste our hard earned taxpayer’s money with their outrageous political battles should be run out of town on a rail. . . instead, unfortunately, they will continue to be elected again and again by those who bow to the alter of FOX, Rush, Sheldon Adelson, and the Koch Brothers!

  7. Rob says:

    Marco Rubio is probably wetting his pants right about now.

    The first vote by the Supreme court was 5-4, this one was 6-3. Haven’t these folks tired of getting their behinds kicked? Or can’t they figure it out? One thing for sure is that they will keep on trying.

  8. Palm Coast Resident says:

    I am pleased that all the Republicans who qualified for tax subsidies will still be able to afford their monthly premiums.

  9. Allen says:

    So much for the rule of law. The 6 black robes aren’t about to let a little thing like the constitution get in their way. They should be impeached for failing to defend and protect the constitution. The country is doomed to become just another third world country. It won’t be long now. I say the sooner the better. Let China and Russia rule the world.

    • Obama 2015 says:

      You mean the 6 black robes saw through the GOP constant lies and determination to try and kill this law by telling the GOP Governors to not set up exchanges and paying lawyers to find anything to get it repealed.

  10. Lancer says:

    So…this is how it plays out.

    5- 10 years from now, billions will have been wasted and healthcare will be even more dysfunctional. The left will cart out another boogie man, scape goat excuse as to why this is so (it’s never government, even though they’ve a long history of screwing up healthcare since the HMO Act).

    …and the move towards single payer, full tilt government control of healthcare will be the order of the day. Oh, have a problem with your healthcare? “Shut up and sit down!”, your government overseer will say, especially since you have little or no other options.

    Congrats, what a wonderful day for our country.

  11. Amom says:

    So happy that we have passed another hurdle, Sadly some of the republicans are already plotting to spend more taxpayer money on new hurdles as they throw tantrums trying to get their way!

  12. Outsider says:

    The Supreme Court got it wrong. There was no typo, no misunderstanding. The exclusion of subsidies for states who did not set up their own exchanges was an intentional ploy to try to force states to set up their exchanges, and here is the proof:

    http://hotair.com/archives/2014/07/25/obamacare-architect-explained-in-2012-video-why-only-state-exchanges-pay-subsidies/

    • Lancer says:

      Absolutely. By writing the law, how they did and mentioning “by the states” 9 times in the law there was no mistaking what the intent was…the force states to set up exchanges.

      Gruber said as much as well.

  13. Flatsflyer says:

    I just want to reassure all Tea Baggers, if your head exploded today because of the Supreme Court decision, don’t freat, treatment for your condition is covered by ObamaCare.

  14. My thoughts says:

    Don’t forget our own Governor’s frivolous lawsuits.

  15. Trumper says:

    Oh boy, more leftist liberal crap . I can’t wait to see these grubers cry in their potato soup when President Trump makes them go to work or loose their welfare.

    • Obama 2015 says:

      You mean the President Trump that has filed for Billions of dollars in bankruptcy protection for all his failed businesses ?

  16. Knightwatch says:

    I cannot wait for Republican presidential candidates to run on the single issue of eliminating affordable health care for millions of Americans. They have proposed nothing else.

    Republicans are sick puppies.

  17. Sherry E says:

    Well said “Obama 2015 says”. . . the complete political obstructionist in Congress and state houses who waste our hard earned taxpayer’s money with their outrageous political battles should be run out of town on a rail. . . instead, unfortunately, they will continue to be elected again and again by those who bow to the alter of FOX, Rush, Sheldon Adelson, and the Koch Brothers!

  18. Patriot76 says:

    I love when commenters speak “On the Constitution” as if they understand so much as the preamble. It’s pretty easy to accuse someone of obstructing a document without citing factual cause for doing so. I believe it’s very similar to an eleven year old accusing another of not understanding the rules of “monopoly.” They are written down but rarely do the participants ever cite or reference actual material from it.

    Republicans aren’t interested in solutions to middle class American problems because they aren’t “their” problems. Instead in order to win elections, Rebublicans simply know how to make you afraid of something and who’s to blame for it. They spout off about deregulation and limited government while simultaneously eroding civil liberties by increasing government control over your own personal choices. Who cares if you save $20 this year thanks to their “$400 million tax cuts… Because they are simultaneously forcing women to wait 24 hours on an abortion. Regulation is regulation regardless of what religions principle it stands on

  19. a tasty bacon sidedish says:

    Ohhh those sweet tears a flowin’

  20. Patriot76 says:

    Also Mr. “Trumper” – I’m glad you mentioned Donald Trumps expertise on welfare in this country – you know since he has run his businesses into the ground, bankrupting many of them and has experienced the enormous generosity of our corporate welfare.

    Trump could no more run a lemonade stand than he could an office the shape of an oval

  21. Commom Sense says:

    Yes!, Yes. Now we need to work on getting the Republicans out of women’s health issues.

  22. w.ryan says:

    All you people on the right are complaining about what you have to pay. Well, if it wasn’t for your leaders with their hands and mouths where they didn’t belong selling total BS, we’d have had a one payer system like most other forward thinking countries. The right decision was made and we are all better off as a nation! Stop believing the rhetoric from Fox and the right and embrace what’s best for your follow man.

    • a tasty bacon sidedish says:

      No, but you see those other nations aren’t free like we are here in ‘murica!

      *shoots unarmed black man in back*

      *buys congressman*

  23. Joseph Pulitzer says:

    Great week for democrats! What a great court!

  24. Allen says:

    Obamacare has been renamed, it’s now called SCOTUSCARE.

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