King v. Burwell: In 6-3 Ruling, Supreme Court Upholds ‘Obamacare’ Subsidies
The United States Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a key portion of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as ‘Obamacare,’ preserving healthcare coverage for millions of Americans and securing a major part of President Barack Obama’s legacy.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled in King v Burwell that government subsidies to help low- and no-income Americans purchase health insurance will remain available nationwide. In passing the ACA, the justices ruled, Congress intended for subsidies to be available in all 50 states.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” and that disallowing nationwide subsidies would lead to “the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.”
The ruling preserves health coverage for some 6.4 million Americans in 34 states who would have lost the potentially life-saving insurance that many had obtained for the first time in their lives thanks to the ACA. Because of the way the legislation was written, a ruling against it may have resulted in what Roberts called a “death spiral” for the entire law.
Roberts was joined by liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as Anthony Kennedy. Dissenting were conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who wrote that “we should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” since the nation’s highest court has intervened twice in its favor in the past three years. Scalia creatively dismissed the majority’s reading of the case as “pure applesauce,” “interpretative jiggery-pokery” and “quite absurd.”
ACA opponents, who include most congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates, argued the law was unconstitutional for the government to subsidize coverage in states that refused to set up their own health insurance exchanges. Since President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law was enacted in 2010, Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal it. But despite their almost visceral hatred of ‘Obamacare,’ conservatives have been unable to derail the law, under which some 11.7 million Americans have either signed up or re-enrolled for insurance coverage.
The ruling means the ACA is all but certain to survive even after President Barack Obama leaves office in 2017. In a triumphant Thursday morning White House speech, the president reaffirmed his belief that healthcare is a basic human right.
“Five years ago, after nearly a century of talk, decades of trying, a year of bipartisan debate, we finally declared that in America, health care is not a privilege for a few but a right for all,” Obama declared. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
Leading Republican presidential candidates were quick to denounce the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I disagree with the Court’s ruling and believe they have once again erred in trying to correct the mistakes made by President Obama and Congress in forcing Obamacare on the American people,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “I remain committed to repealing this bad law and replacing it with my consumer-centered plan that puts patients and families back in control of their health care decisions.”
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush vowed that “this decision is not the end of the fight against Obamacare,” promising that if elected president he “would make fixing our broken health care system one of my top priorities.”
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called the ruling an “out-of-control act of judicial tyranny.”
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton expressed her approval of the ruling, tweeting that “SCOTUS affirms what we know is true in our hearts & under the law: Health insurance should be affordable & available to all.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted “at a time when the United States is the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee healthcare to all… and 35 million of our citizens today still lack insurance, it would have been an outrage to throw 6.4 million more people off health insurance.”
The notion that healthcare is a basic human right is shared by most people across the developed world. But according to a 2013 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans—56 percent—believe that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage.” The United States is the only most-developed nation in the world without universal healthcare, and Americans’ aversion to providing care for all has long perplexed global health leaders.
Nearly 48 million Americans, or nearly one in seven people, lacked health insurance in 2012, according to the US Census Bureau. A 2009 Harvard Medical School study found that 45,000 annual US deaths are linked to lack of health coverage, and unpaid medical bills are the number one cause of US bankruptcies, with nearly two million Americans affected in 2013.
In 2011, the United States spent $8,508 per person on healthcare, more than 2.5 times the average spent by other developed nations. Despite spending much more per capita on healthcare, the US consistently ranks at or near the bottom among developed nations’ healthcare systems and in 2014 the US ranked 42nd in global life expectancy, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Despite all this, many Americans remain wary of government involvement in healthcare, despite staunchly supporting, and often personally benefiting from, government-run health programs like Social Security and Medicare.
“Americans are worried about socialized medicine. What do you think Social Security and Medicare are,” asked Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Hugo Francescutti in an interview with Moral Low Ground. “I always find it so funny when Americans say, ‘we don’t want socialized medicine,’ but as soon as they turn 65, they’re asking, ‘Where’s my Medicare?’”
Dr. Ida Hellander, director of policy and programs at the US advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), argues that insurance and pharmaceutical corporations and other special interest groups are largely responsible for Americans’ aversion to publicly-funded health care.
“Insurance and drug corporations spend about $300 million a year on lobbying Washington alone, and have more lobbyists than there are members of Congress, and can influence elections at every level,” Hellander told Moral Low Ground. “There have been very well-funded campaigns to make people believe that publicly-funded health care equals ‘socialized medicine…’ People don’t come up with these things on their own. A lot of money went into making people think these things.”
Tagged Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama, chief justice john roberts, healthcare reform, interpretative jiggery-pokery, King v. Burwell, Obamacare, Scalia pure applesauce, SCOTUS, Supreme Court Obamacare, uninsured Americans, universal healthcare