US Supreme Court secures Obamacare – for now

An attempt to do away with President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act has been defeated in the US Supreme Court in a 6 to 3 vote.

If defeated, the dissolution of federal tax credits and health insurance exchanges that underpin Obamacare – designed to allow Americans on low incomes to purchase affordable health policies – would have left more than six million people at risk of losing insurance cover, said the White House.

Obamacare had been under siege by conservatives in Washington who dislike measures such as the long-delayed requirement for employers to provide health insurance for their workers. Now, it will take an Act of Congress and a Presidential signature to topple the legislation.

Delivering his opinion statement on the case, Chief Justice John Roberts said: “Congress passed the Affordable Care act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

“If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter,” he added.

The Supreme Court case centred on just four words in the ACA, referring to insurance exchanges “established by the state,” which became a bone of contention as 34 US states do not operate their own exchanges and rely on schemes set up by the federal government.

That raised the question whether only state-established exchanges could issue tax credits, or whether the federal exchanges could do likewise. The ruling effectively means that individuals who get their health insurance through federal exchanges will be eligible for the subsidies.

Without the Court’s agreement on a pragmatic interpretation of the wording, the ACA would either have had to go back to the Republican-led Congress for a re-write – which would likely have resulted in it being eviscerated – or the 34 states would have had to be compelled to establish their own exchanges.

Acknowledging that there have been “successes and setbacks” in the five years since the ACA was enacted, President Obama said that nevertheless there is “no doubt that this law is working” and helping to save lives.

“Today after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law, after a Presidential election run in part on preserving or repealing this law, and after multiple challenges to this law in the Supreme Court, the ACA is here to stay,” he asserted.

A successful challenge would have resulted in millions of Americans losing thousands of dollars-worth of tax credits, and for many health insurance would become unaffordable once again, he said.

The verdict infuriated Republicans, who now need a victorious candidate in the 2016 presidential race – as well as a Republic-led Congress – to have any hope of repealing the law.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that ObamaCare is “fundamentally broken, increasing health care costs for millions of Americans.”

“We will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient-centred solutions that meet the needs of seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families,” he added.

Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush echoed that sentiment, saying that Obamacare “imposes job-killing mandates, causes spending in Washington to skyrocket by $1.7 trillion, raises taxes by $1 trillion and drives up health care costs.”

“Instead of fixing our health care system, it made the problems worse,” he continued, pledging to “make fixing our broken health care system one of my top priorities” if elected.

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