UNREVIEWED: Federal courts take opposing views on ACA subsidies

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: There is little chance that federal lawmakers will pass refining laanguage on Obamacare subsidies

A federal court ruling would deal a crippling blow to the Affordable Care Act if it is upheld.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held in a 2-1 decision that subsidies for those participating in the ACA exchanges are only legal under the law better known as Obamacare if state governments are operating those exchanges.

In making their decision, according to a report Tuesday by Reuters, the two judges in D.C. wrote in their opinion: “The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of congressional intent, but the statutory text does. (It) plainly makes subsidies available only on exchanges established by states. And in the absence of any contrary indications, that text is conclusive evidence of Congress’s intent. … To hold otherwise would be to say that enacted legislation, on its own, does not command our respect — an utterly untenable proposition.”

In Virginia, however, another U.S. District Court panel determined 3-0 that the language of the law was broader than that and subsidies also were available for those who go through federally run exchanges.

The D.C. court panel suspended its ruling until the Obama administration could appeal it to the full court, a step that could take six months. However that appeal turns out, it’s a pretty safe bet that the losing side will continue the appeal, meaning the U.S. Supreme Court likely will be called upon to decide the matter.

And as the high court has shown, first by saying the law was legal as a tax in one 5-4 vote and then in another 5-4 vote last month that closely held corporations have leeway to not provide coverages that conflict with religious convictions, anything could happen at that point.

The rub is that 36 of the states — including Georgia — don’t run exchanges for their residents, which, from the wording of the law, is something the Democratic bill writers didn’t anticipate.

Should the decision by the three-judge D.C. court panel be upheld, estimates are that it Would impact 5 million people across the country. In Georgia, which had 190,000 sign up for ACA coverage through the federally operated exchange, more than 180,000 get subsidies to help offset the premiums. The subsidies are available for individuals who make up to $45,960 and for families of four with incomes up to $94,200, according to Georgia Health News.

It would also make the law unworkable. Georgia, for instance, has a state law the forbids the state from operating a health care exchange. Obamacare is still a hot-button issue with a great many Americans, which is reflected in Congress. It’s unlikely that a legislative fix to the law’s language will be forthcoming anytime soon.

So, the takeaway from all this is that the law still has problems. Whether those problems turn out to be a mere hiccup or a fatal illness likely won’t be known before a new Congress is seated and hard campaigns for control of the White House are in full swing — a climate more conducive to exploiting issues than finding solutions..

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board