On March 4, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell. The key issue in this case is how the government may provide subsidies to people buying health insurance through government exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. This case could also determine whether millions of Americans are free from the law’s onerous mandates and fines.
There are effectively two categories of exchanges: those “Established by a State” (described in Section 1311 of the law’s text) and the federal exchange (described in Section 1321). The statute authorizes the federal government to provide subsidies to enrollees in the state-established exchanges, but not the federal exchange.
When it became clear that many states — today as many as 37 — would not establish their own exchanges, the IRS issued a rule in 2012 allowing those who purchase insurance through the federal exchange to also receive subsidies. Plaintiffs in King v. Burwell claim the IRS acted illegally and did not have authority to do this.
Ultimately, it is up to the Court to declare that the Administration must uphold the law as written by Congress, not to refashion the law. A ruling in favor of petitioners in King could free millions of people from the law’s most onerous provisions, and could present a great opportunity to move past ObamaCare’s political stalemate and to seek a better path forward for healthcare policy.