On Tuesday, Obamacare was taken for a wild ride.
First, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling in Halbig v. Burwell that struck a massive blow to the healthcare law.
A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the government can’t provide subsidies to states that participated in the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov, because of the Affordable Care Act’s specific wording.
If upheld, the ruling would make it nearly impossible for Obamacare to work as intended.
But just hours later, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond handed down an opposite ruling in another case, King v. Burwell.
So what’s going on? Is Obamacare finally on the way out, or did the Richmond court just give the ACA ultimate protection?
A Difference of Opinion
The courts are divided over the wording of the Affordable Care Act, which states that subsidies are available to those “enrolled through an exchange established by the state.”
The problem is that only 14 states created and implemented their own exchanges… The other 36 used the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov.
That discrepancy encouraged the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling, which says that the IRS can’t provide subsidies to states that used the federal exchange. After all, the letter of the law “unambiguously restricts” the subsidies to insurance purchased through a state-run exchange.
House Speaker John Boehner said that the ruling is “further proof that President Obama’s healthcare law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed. The American people recognize that Obamacare is hurting our economy… and that’s why Republicans remain committed to repealing the law.”
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Yet in spite of the ruling – and the clear interpretation of the ACA’s wording – the Obama administration immediately announced that it would seek to overturn the ruling through an “en banc” hearing – essentially, a review of the ruling by all 11 members of the court.
And even if the court doesn’t overturn the ruling, the case will likely end up in the Supreme Court. You see, when it comes to his pet policies, Obama doesn’t know how to take “No” for an answer.
You Know What Happens When You Assume…
To make matters more confusing, Richmond’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of providing subsidies to all who bought insurance, even in states that didn’t create their own exchanges.
The ruling was directly opposed to the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision, which came just two hours prior.
White House Spokesman, Josh Earnest, quickly lauded the ruling, saying: “You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their healthcare costs… I think that was a pretty clear intent of the congressional law.”
But if that’s true, then why didn’t Congress simply write the law to reflect that intention?
In a perfect world, the courts would only rule on what was written – not what Congress may have meant but somehow failed to elucidate.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and the Richmond ruling could end up protecting Obamacare in the long run – especially if the D.C. Court’s decision gets struck down during future appeals.
In Pursuit of the Truth,