The Supreme Court's ruling today that allows nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is great news for the more than 6 million people who could've lost insurance if the court had decided the other way.
The justices ruled 6-3 that the government could provide these subsidies even in the three dozen states that opted to let the federal government run their ACA insurance exchanges, rather than establishing exchanges run by the state. Nationwide, about 85 percent of people who buy insurance through the exchanges qualify for income-based subsidies.
The Supreme Court case, King v. Burwell, dealt with a part of the ACA that seemed to say that subsidies were available only to people buying insurance on state-run exchanges.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "The context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase."
He added, "Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them."
This ruling–the court's second in three years to uphold provisions of the ACA–is a big step toward ensuring that President Obama's health care reform will survive, even after he leaves office in 2017.
For the millions of Americans and their families who depend on the ACA, and particularly on the subsidies, this ruling gives them some confidence that they will be able to have health insurance into the future. "Over six million Americans and their families will sleep easier knowing they will still be able to afford health coverage," Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in a statement. "Millions more won’t have to worry about an upward spiral in their premiums because of today’s decision, even if they didn’t buy their insurance through the marketplace. And the law’s financial assistance will be available in the next open enrollment so that others can benefit as well."
The ACA isn't a perfect law. There are likely some other points that need clarifying in the nearly 11,000-page law. And, clearly, the ACA is not the answer to all of this nation's health care problems. But it is step toward ensuring that health insurance is not a benefit that only the wealthy can afford.
Because women are more likely than men to be below the poverty line and to struggle to find and keep insurance coverage, we at HealthyWomen welcome this decision that will help keep all women healthy.
Liptak A. "Supreme Court Allows Nationwide Health Care Subsidies." The New York Times. June 25, 2015.
"Statement by HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell on the Affordable Care Act." HHS Office of Public Affairs Press Release. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. June 25, 2015.