In a potentially crippling blow to Obamacare, a federal appeals court panel declared Tuesday that government subsidies worth billions of dollars that helped 4.7 million people buy insurance on HealthCare.gov are illegal.
The 2-1 ruling said such subsidies can be granted only to people who bought insurance in an Obamacare exchange run by an individual state or the District of Columbia—not on the federally run exchange HealthCare.gov. The ruling relied on a close reading of the Affordable Care Act.
“Section 36B plainly makes subsidies available in the Exchanges established by states,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph in his majority opinion, where he was joined by Judge Thomas Griffith.
“We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance. At least until states that wish to can set up their own Exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly.”
In his dissent, Judge Harry Edwards, who called the case a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut” Obamacare, wrote that the judgment of the majority “portends disastrous consequences.”
Indeed, the 72-page decision threatens to unleash a cascade of effects that could seriously compromise Obamacare’s goals of compelling people to get health insurance, and helping them afford it.
However, the ruling does, and will not ultimately affect the taxpayer-fund subsidies the federal government issued to 2 million or so people through the 15 exchanges run by individual states and the District of Columbia,
The Obama administration is certain to ask the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reverse the panel’s decision, which for now does not have the rule of law.