The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision upholding the legality of the Affordable Care Act is an unalloyed victory for more than 6 million Americans, including 1.3 million in Florida. They can continue to receive subsidies to buy health insurance through a federal exchange.
It’s the second time that Chief Justice John Roberts, hailed as a conservative hero when former President George W. Bush nominated him for the position, has saved the law by voting to uphold it. This time, he gave Congress a deserved scolding for sloppy work.
The law “contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” he wrote. “The Court nevertheless must do its best.”
You could almost hear the sigh of frustration as the justice plodded through the legislation to make sense of what Congress enacted.
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Considering the absurd nature of the challenge, it should come as no surprise that he found that a one-sentence drafting error should not thwart the law’s intent.
A consistent reading, the chief justice wrote, shows Congress meant to allow a federal “exchange” where individuals can obtain health insurance. This is the only way “to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.”
Calamitous, indeed. Had the challengers prevailed, residents of the 34 states without an online marketplace would have lost access to subsidies.
They could have seen their premiums triple, or worse. Many would have been unable to afford any insurance. Private insurers would have been tempted to leave the marketplace. Congressional Budget Office estimates said that repeal would cause the federal deficit to grow by at least $137 billion over 10 years.
Without “Obamacare,” most of those who would have lost their healthcare subsidies would be forced to seek treatment in hospital emergency rooms, which is not only the most expensive route to care but one that adds red ink to the bottom line of public hospitals like the Jackson Health System. Local taxpayers would have been left to pick up the tab.
The decision by the high court should bring finality to the debate over the Affordable Care Act’s legality. It’s time to move on.
Instead of sniping at the law, Republicans should seek constructive engagement. They have yet to offer an acceptable alternative, though. Indeed, in saving the law Chief Justice Roberts also saved the GOP from the pressure of coming up with a way to respond to the millions of Americans who would have been left clamoring for relief.
Gov. Scott and Florida lawmakers should take heed. The political reward they see in condemning Obamacare offers diminishing returns now that the Supreme Court has again, and probably forever, declared it the law of the land.
KING V. BURWELL:
“In every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. 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.”
Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority