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Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act Subsidies

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The Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning on a case that could have changed how over 50,000 local people bought health insurance. With just a few days left in its session, the court delivered its highly anticipated ruling on the case King v Burwell. That's the case that about people who purchased health insurance from the federal exchange under the Affordable Care Act with federal subsidies. If the government lost, those subsidies would only have gone to people who lived in state with a state insurance exchange, making policies in state like Florida and Alabama much more expensive.  By a 6-3 vote, the court decided in favor of keeping the subsidies.

President Obama addressed the nation soon after the announcement was made saying "The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. This morning, the court upheld a critical part of this law."

Saying Congress passed the Affordable Care Act "to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," the court’s decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with Justices Kagen, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kennedy in keeping the subsidies, which are actually tax credits based on a family’s income. According to Todd Torgersen, the President of Combined Insurance Services in Pensacola, the subsidies go to people who make up to 400% of the federal poverty level. "You start to see some real traction when your income is less the 250% of the federal poverty level." Torgerson says that for people on that lower income scale, the benefits multiply. "There are benefit subsidies as well when you get below that mark. The deductibles are lowered, the co-pays are lowered, so you really have two forms of subsidies and a lot of people don't know about that."

If the court had decided against the subsidies, over 6 million Americans, including over 50,000 in our area, would have lost those credits and gotten a major tax hike, as well as a huge hike in health insurance premiums next year. The decision will be analyzed and dissected for years. Dr. David Ramsey is an Assistant professor of Government at the University of West Florida. He was surprised by the outcome saying he "thought the decision would go 5-4 the other way."

One part of the court’s decision that was not surprising was that the dissenting opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who called the decision “pure applesauce”. He also said Roberts and the other justices employed “interpretative jiggery-pokery” in reaching the decision and said the law’s nickname should be changed from Obamacare to SCOTUS-care. 

So, what happens now? The short answer is: nothing. The court completely upheld the subsidy provision of the law with no changes so everything goes on as it was. Most legal observers believe this is the last major legal challenge to the ACA, at least for now. If there are any further challenges to the law, it would have to come from congress and as long as President Obama is in office any major change or repeal of the law would certainly be vetoed. One thing is certain, with the presidential election a little over 16 months away, we have certainly not heard the last of the Affordable Care Act. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.