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7/24/2014 6:02:00 AM
Split court rulings put Obamacare in the crosshairs again
Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and Paul Gosar, and Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick
Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and Paul Gosar, and Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick
By Hubble Ray Smith
Miner reporter

KINGMAN - Conflicting court decisions on the Affordable Care Act issued within hours of each other Tuesday could mean the case is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit court ruled that premium subsidies included in the ACA, also known as "Obamacare," are invalid in nearly three-fourths of the states across the country.

Within hours of the D.C. ruling, however, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld the IRS rule that subsidies are legal for people who buy insurance through, the federal exchange that operates in 36 states.

The IRS issued a rule in May 2012 saying that the Affordable Care Act allows for tax subsidies to eligible individuals who buy insurance through an exchange, regardless of whether it was established by the state or federal government.

The fact that a court found fault with part of the law give ammunition to its opponents.

"The court decisions show that the Obamacare law, which was poorly conceived and poorly drafted, has also been poorly implemented and will once again have to be settled by the Supreme Court," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told the Daily Miner via email.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said he was encouraged by the appellate court's decision. It reflects a studied approach to judicial review of the controversial health care legislation, he said.

"The court construed the actual language of the statute which clearly applies only to state exchanges," Gosar said in a prepared statement. "It appropriately rejected arguments about intentions, feelings or excuses about sloppy drafting. That is what courts are meant to do."

Not everyone agrees.

The exchanges are an integral part of the health care law, said Bill Shade, owner of Mohave Insurance Center in Kingman. Individual households within range of the federal poverty level would be eligible for tax subsidies, he said.

"It's federal law and the subsidy framework, from my understanding, is meant to be the same. It doesn't matter if Nevada or Arizona has an exchange. It's supposed to be applied equally," the local insurance broker said. "I don't know how they could be thinking that one or the other is not part of federal law."

Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., said the Congresswoman hopes the Supreme Court will resolve the discrepancies between the rulings.

"She believes the most important point is that Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care," Johnson said.

The ACA attempts to make health insurance more affordable by granting tax subsidies to people who purchase insurance through an exchange established by the state.

However, 36 states - including Arizona - chose not to establish a state exchange, but instead to use an exchange established and administered by the federal government.

The Obama administration said policyholders will continue to receive financial aid as the courts sort out the legal implications.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the adverse decision in Washington would have "no practical impact" on tax credits as the case works its way through the courts.

He said the administration would seek a hearing by all 11 judges on the D.C. Circuit Court, which has seven judges appointed by Democratic presidents, including four by Obama.

The seemingly arcane issue is crucial to the success of the health law care because most states have been unable or unwilling to set up their own exchanges. The inaction stems in many instances from opposition by Republican governors to the Affordable Care Act.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Article comment by: Uncle Anson

If there is ambiguity in a contract or specification language, and there certainly is here, it is usually, if not always adjudicated against the drafter. In this case the drafter is the current administration. Good luck in having this part of the ACA upheld. Oh, silly me, it's now a matter of politics and not law.

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

You're wrong. The 4th Circuit decision was handed down by a panel of 3 judges. Likely the appeal will go to the full 11 members of the 4th Circuit before it goes up to the Supreme Court. However, since the ruling was narrow and in contravention of the rest of the ACA, the full court will likely overturn the earlier decision and rule the ACA legal in its fullness.

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