The nine justices of the Supreme Court on Wednesday will again hold the future of ObamaCare in their hands, as they take up a new legal challenge that could strip insurance subsidies from millions of people.
The court on Wednesday will hear oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case, with the plaintiffs contending that people in 37 states are illegally receiving subsidies through President Obama’s signature law.
Should the justices rule against the administration, the consequences could be lasting and dramatic.
The Obama administration says it is impossible to carry out the healthcare law without the subsidies, which were designed to help people cover the cost of health insurance.
A victory for the plaintiffs would instantly revoke the insurances subsidies for up to 9.3 million people, according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute, sending shockwaves across the healthcare system.
“Not only would many millions of people lose health insurance and rejoin the ranks of the uninsured, but premiums for everyone else would skyrocket,” said Ron Pollack, the executive director of the pro-ObamaCare Families USA.
Republicans acknowledge the high stakes in the case and have drafted emergency plans to soften the financial blow for ObamaCare participants if the lawsuit succeeds.
The case hinges on the meaning of four words in the text of the law: “established by the state.”
The challengers argue that a plain English reading of the phrase means that subsidies are invalid in the roughly three-dozen states that opted not to set up their own healthcare marketplaces, instead relying on the federal website HealthCare.gov.
Administration lawyers argue a literal reading of the phrase is nonsensical and contradicted by the rest of the law, which they say makes clear that subsidies were intended to be available nationwide.
The outcome of the case could rest on whether a majority of the justices focus on the four-word phrase or opt to view it within the broader context of the Affordable Care Act, experts say.