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Obamacare framers attack lawsuit over subsidies

Key congressional leaders at the time the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday maintaining that federal subsidies for health care coverage were meant to be provided to people in all states.

It may be the key brief in the case, which could determine if the framework of the law survives.

The case turns on whether Congress intended to make tax credits available to people in all states to make insurance affordable.

The Democrats who wrote the law and pushed it through Congress with no Republican support say the whole point of the Affordable Care Act was to make health care affordable.

However, a group of conservative attorneys general and scholars, filed lawsuits in three states _ including Oklahoma _ and the District of Columbia arguing that the plain language of the act says subsidies would only be available in states that set up their own health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges.

Only 13 states have their own exchanges. In Oklahoma and the rest of the states, people purchase coverage from exchanges established by the federal government. The large majority in Oklahoma and in the United States need the tax credits.

Two of the cases challenging the subsidies made it through federal appeals courts last summer _ with split decisions. The Supreme Court in November agreed to review the appeals court decision in a Virginia case upholding subsidies for both exchanges. The case is King v Burwell.

The brief filed Wednesday was signed by the top leaders in Congress in 2010 _ former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Senate majority leader Harry Reid _ and past and current members who ran committees that helped craft the legislation. Also signing on were state lawmakers in states with federal and state exchanges.

“(T) he availability of tax credits under the ACA should not turn on whether an individual purchased insurance on a federal or state
Exchange,” the brief states.

“Rather, such credits should be available to all qualified individuals regardless of where they live. Such a conclusion is the only one consistent with the ACA's text, purpose, and history.

“Indeed, if the Court were to accept Petitioners' version of the
statute, it would render inoperable not only the system of Exchanges, but other critical aspects of the law _such as the individual mandate and the provisions guaranteeing coverage for people with preexisting conditions _ further evidence that such interpretation is wholly without merit.”

In a statement, Pelosi, who is now the House minority leader, said, "As Republicans in Congress have made clear in their strong support of this lawsuit, unraveling the ACA through this outcome is precisely their intent. This politically-motivated lawsuit is an effort to accomplish through the courts what they have not been able to do legislatively: repeal the law.

"I am confident that the Supreme Court will issue the only ruling consistent with the text and structure of the ACA: ruling that premium tax credits are available to every eligible taxpayer in the nation."

On Monday, Supreme Court justices declined to combine the Oklahoma case with the one they are reviewing.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed the Oklahoma case in the fall of 2012, but it took U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White in Muskogee more than two years to rule.

White sided with Pruitt, ruling that the subsidies are not available in federal exchanges but that ruling was appealed by the U.S. government to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court hasn’t ruled on the Oklahoma case and it is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to review a case that hasn’t gone through the whole process.



Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›