By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the latest attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act.
King v. Burwell is a lawsuit brought by Virginia residents who ultimately hope to strip premium tax credits, also called a subsidy, from people who buy their health insurance through one of the 37 states with federally run exchanges.
Pennsylvania is one such state.
The stakes could not be higher, according to the Center for American Progress. “The sudden elimination of a key component of the ACA would cause substantial disruptions to the U.S. health care system. Moreover, it would take away health insurance coverage from more than 8 million Americans and cause premiums to spike for many more.”
Here in Pennsylvania, more than 400,000 would lose subsidy if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs. Of those, approximately 329,000 would lose health insurance coverage altogether.
The impact of the decision disproportionately affects women.
In Pennsylvania, 221,740 women are at risk of losing their subsidy, according to National Women’s Law Center. Of those women, 31,430 women are African-American, 22,490 women are Latinas, 9,650 are Asian and 430 are Native American.
Background: What’s the latest attack about? The heart of the case rests of four words. Specifically, it relies on an ACA provision that specifies tax credits are available to individuals enrolled in “exchanges established by the State.”
The ACA, however, empowered states whose governors refused to run their own exchanges, like former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, to defer to the federal government to run their state exchange. So the plaintiffs argue that “exchanges established by the State” means that only individuals and families in those 13 states and the District of Columbia that have established their own health insurance exchanges can receive tax credits—and not individuals and families in the 37 states that rely on federally-facilitated exchanges, like Pennsylvania.
In short, the plaintiffs are attempting to exploit the letter of the law to subvert its spirit.
Though the challenge is being brought by Virginia residents, the legal theory fueling the case derives from a 2012 paper conservative legal scholar Jonathan Adler and political analyst Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute.
As Nicholas Bagley recently explained, conservatives are attempting to deprive millions of Americans of health insurance coverage based on “snippets of text in a statutory provision” while ignoring the entire context of the rest of the Affordable Care Act. It is willful ignorance as strategic political maneuvering.
Or as the New York Times recently called it, “a marvel of reverse-engineered legal absurdity.”
Watch this space for updates on the case and how it may affect women in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, if you’d like to follow along, here is a round-up of live-blogs covering the case courtesy of SCOTUSblog.