June 25, 2015

Supreme Court rules for government in Obamacare exchanges case

By Supreme Court rules for government in Obamacare exchanges case

This morning the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the Obama Administration in the latest Obamacare lawsuit, King v. Burwell. PLF was not involved in the case.

The question was whether the long, intricate, poorly-written statute allows the federal government to make certain subsidies available to people who obtain insurance through a federal “exchange,” as opposed to a state “exchange.” It gets into some rather complicated statutory interpretation, but Chief Justice Roberts and five of his colleagues conclude that such subsidies are available. You can read the opinion here.

Today’s decision changes little about Obamacare. It is no surprise that there are major disagreements over the meaning of this law—a law more than 2,000 pages long that was passed without a fair debate, literally in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve in the Senate, by a Congress that didn’t bother reading it before voting. As Roberts observes in today’s decision,

The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting. (To cite just one, the Act creates three separate Section 1563s.) Several features of the Act’s passage contributed to that unfortunate reality. Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors, rather than through “the traditional legislative process.” And Congress passed much of the Act using a complicated budgetary procedure known as “reconciliation,” which limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate’s normal 60-vote filibuster requirement. As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation.

Though defenders of the law desperately want at least the legal challenges to be over, a more fundamental constitutional challenge has been pending for several years and could reach the Supreme Court next term. It focuses on the fact that the law was passed in violation of the Constitution’s Origination Clause, which requires that any tax law start in the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Individual Mandate “penalty” payment is a tax—yet it started not in the House, but in the Senate. Our challenge to Obamacare on Origination Clause grounds, Sissel v. HHS, has been pending before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for over eight months on a motion for rehearing en banc, and has received some impressive amicus support.

It’s little wonder that the majority of the American people have never supported Obamacare and still do not support it. But whether the judiciary or Congress acts first, it’s time for genuine reform in health care—reform that will prioritize free markets, put consumers in charge instead of bureaucrats, and will respect the limits of the Constitution.

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