TEA Partiers briefly went nuts this morning. That’s because a D.C. circuit court’s three-judge panel ruled that Congress did not intend for anybody in states that use the federal healthcare.gov marketplace to get the insurance subsidies available to people in other states.
But the frenzied celebratory consumption of snack cakes was short lived. Just hours later a three-judge panel in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Congress did intend people receiving coverage through the federal government to get subsidies.
The issue at stake here is of particular interest to Montanans because we’re one of the 27 states that uses the federal healthcare.gov marketplace.
But the Affordable Care Act subsidies aren’t going anywhere. Here’s why:
1. The DC appeals court decision was made only by a three judge panel, not the full DC court of appeals. The federal government says it will appeal to the full DC court of appeals. This means that all eleven judges would review the ruling. The D.C. Circuit as a whole is much more liberal than the panel of three judges who heard the case. It has seven judges appointed by Democrats and only four appointed by Republicans. This means that the full court is likely to reverse the earlier decision.
2. The Fourth Circuit also liberal-leaning, so even if the Affordable Care Act’s opponents requested a full review to the Fourth Circuit, their ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act would still stand.
3. As Vox reported earlier today, this means full panels of both circuit courts are likely to uphold the Affordable Care Act subsiies. This means the Supreme Court is actually less likely to weigh in. They are more likely to get involved with cases when two lower courts with inconsistent rulings. Of course they can choose whether to weigh in or not.
4. Finally, its pretty ludicrous to try to argue that Congress intended that the subsidies would only apply in states that run their own health insurance marketplaces. “It is…clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act’s primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill,” the Fourth Circuit Court ruled. Experts up and down the line agree that they couldn’t possibly have meant anything else.
The impact to tens of thousands of Montanans and millions of Americans who would no longer get a price break on insurance would be devastating.
Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen reported recently that there are 30,000 people who were previously uninsured who gained coverage in Montana under the Affordable Care Act. If the subsides were stripped from these middle class and low-income people, their premiums would have been an average of 76 percent higher in price than what they are paying now. Many of these people would no longer be able to afford health coverage.
If the DC panel’s ruling were upheld it would be one of the most devastating blows to middle class America in the nation’s history. It puts into perspective just how devastating a blow a faction of TEA Party legislators dealt Montanans last session. That’s when they voted to bar Montana from accepting the money to pay for 100% of the health care coverage costs for 70,000 working poor Montanans.
Montana uses the federal healthcare.gov marketplace because the Montana legislature rejected two bills in 2011 to create a state-based marketplace: HB 124 and HB 620 .
You can read the DC Circuit Court of Appeals anti-Affordable Care Act 2-1ruling here: Halbig v. Burwell,No. 14-5018 (D.C. Cir. July 22, 2014)
The Fourth Circuit ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act 3-0 is here: King v. Burwell, No. 14-1158 (4th Cir. July 22, 2014).