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Blame Congress If Obamacare Subsidies Die

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Blame Congress If Obamacare Subsidies Die

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When the Supreme Court rules on the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, I’m hoping the justices will say the intent of the law is crystal clear, uphold the subsidies that help people pay for health insurance, and spend at least a few pages reaming out Congress for not doing its job. Twice.

Democrats’ harried search for a way to pass the ACA, after slow-walking through 2009 and losing their filibuster-proof majority in early 2010, will not soon be forgotten by anyone who followed the rock-strewn path to enactment. Still, that’s no excuse for “established by the State” — the phrase that has thrown into question whether residents of states with federal rather than state insurance marketplaces are eligible for the subsidies that make coverage affordable. Think of all the time and energy that lawyers, politicians, judges, lobbyists, and health policy analysts could have devoted to more productive pursuits had just one Democrat on Capitol Hill noticed that sentence and tacked on “or the federal government.”

Even worse, think of how easy it would have been for Congress to fix the problem once it became known. Congressional Republicans despise the law so deeply, or at least profess to, that nearly every single one of them ran on vows to repeal it. But they are having tremendous difficulty coming up with an alternative to Obamacare. They can’t even agree on whether or how to simply preserve subsidies for a while should the Supreme Court strike them down in King v. Burwell, a decision expected within the next couple of weeks.

The case has put some 6.4 million people at risk of losing their subsidies and coverage, a possibility that has begun to worry some Republicans. They could have saved themselves and everyone else a lot of trouble by passing a temporary fix with an expiration date. That would have been smart politically, too, since most of those relying on subsidies live in presidential and Senate battleground states.

For as long as the ACA has been under discussion — six years now — Republicans have let ideology override practicality and even principle. That’s been evident in their refusal to make technical fixes (usually routine after a major new law takes effect) or even changes that move the ACA in a more conservative or business-friendly direction. It’s also been evident in the refusal of most Republican governors to set up their own insurance marketplaces and to rely instead on the federal exchange — a triumph of hostility toward President Obama and Obamacare over devotion to state control and autonomy.

Underpinning the relentless resistance is the hope and faith that the law will disappear. But that’s not going to happen. The need for it, or something like it, is simply too profound.

The most obvious proof is in the numbers. The ACA has led to a net increase of more than 14 million people with coverage, according to Charles Gaba at ACASignups.net, and Gallup pegs the rate of uninsured at 11.9 percent this year — down from 18 percent at one point in 2013. There’s far more to the law than that, however. It has helped people in largely unheralded ways that fall mostly under the often forgotten first phrase of its official name, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

I was reminded of that protection twice this month. Once was when Extra correspondent Jerry Penacoli said in a Rose Garden interview with Obama that the ACA helped him survive melanoma and thyroid cancer. The law bans lifetime coverage limits, enabling him to receive the treatment he needed. “You pretty much saved my finances and my life,” Penacoli told the president.

The other reminder came when I opened a file folder and discovered a long-ago letter to my son. It was dated a month before he turned 19. “Recently, we were notified of your loss of dependent eligibility status on October 31, 2004,” the letter said. “As a result, your current coverage ends.”

I remember the shock of learning he had been kicked off the family policy and the scramble to figure out how to get him covered. Now, under the ACA, insurance companies must give parents the option of keeping kids on the family plan until they turn 26. So that is a shock and a problem no one will ever have again. The same is true for running up against annual or lifetime limits on benefits, and for getting rejected by an insurance company for having a medical condition, even a minor one.

For millions of others, the law and its subsidies have also ended the problem of being priced out of health insurance. But it will be back if conservative justices on the Supreme Court grab the opening handed to them by a sloppy Democratic Congress and an intractable Republican one.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. 

Photo via Flickr

Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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  1. Carl Sdano June 18, 2015

    The Republican party in reality is the death party. not just in regards to health insurance, but also in its incessant need to feed the military industrial complex, it’s war on women’s health, on the middle class, on education & on the economy. They have put this country on a downward spiral, from which there may be no recovery.

    1. FireBaron June 18, 2015

      And don’t forget their desire to attach the “Death Penalty” to whatever the “crime de jour” is.

  2. FireBaron June 18, 2015

    Right now, if I were Chairman of the National Democratic Party, and of the state parties in those who refused to set up their own exchanges, I would be on the airwaves beating to death the fact that the Republican Parties in their states and in Congress are going to be the likely causes of their losing insurance coverage. I would make sure that message was repeated every day, and would make sure I even bought airtime on Fox News and Fox Business to make sure the word was spread – especially during shows such as “Fox and Friends” and “The O’Reilly Factor”!

    1. plc97477 June 19, 2015

      I wish you were the president of the NDP. I can’t understand why we as a political party are so slow to crow about our achievements. Part of it might be that we really do not have a liberal media and as such don’t have a voice to get our message out there.

  3. Paul Bass June 18, 2015

    Though I’m a long time yellow dawg, I would presume Chief Justice Roberts will see the light of day and vote with the moderates of the court.
    The is long legal precedent for the phrase “the State” meaning/referring to the “nation-state” i.e. the federal government of the nation-state of the “United States of America”.

  4. CrankyToo June 18, 2015

    Doubtless, millions are hoping against hope that the Supreme Court will do the right thing in this case. But with this court, there’s not an abundance of precedent in that regard.

  5. Irishgrammy June 18, 2015

    It’s just to easy to blame congress AGAIN…….THIS congress is without doubt the most ineffectual, cowardly group of know-nothings ever…..no, no……… the ones I will blame is the Roberts Supreme Court and it’s ultra ideological conservative members whom I believe are also and more than any in memory outrageously political in their rulings and are forcing us back into the 19 century with all of it’s unfairness and stunted progression into a more perfect union, those 4 members, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts and occasionally the wild card, Kennedy, although I do believe Kennedy does put far more consideration into his rulings than either of the politically conservative 4. Their Citizen’s United ruling is without doubt the absolute worst decision to come down from the court in decades and that ruling is clearly destroying our electoral process ……!!!


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