Forget Mayweather v. Pacquiao and the Welterweight World Title in Las Vegas this May. The biggest grudge match of the year will be in Washington.
Oral arguments for King v. Burwell were heard by the Supreme Court back at the beginning of March, officially kicking off a bitter fight already surrounded by controversy. Both sides are set to go the distance with fighters gaining traction and supporters.
The Supreme Court will decide if the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies are legal or not, and people on both sides of the issue are starting to rally support.
At the heart of the case is the tiny seven word phrase “through an exchange established by the State.” Plaintiffs claim this wording limits federal subsidies to the 16 states (and the District of Columbia) that set up their own exchanges and excludes the 34 states using Healthcare.gov.
Arguing for Team King during oral arguments, Michael Carvin cited Provision 1311 of the ACA, the “established by the State” provision, as plain language written by Congress which should be read as such. So only residents of states running their own exchanges would be eligible for federal subsidies.
Team Burwell feels a little differently. “Congress did not write the ACA wanting to disrupt the entire industry—and the country,” Tom Goldstein, of SCOTUSblog, said during a panel discussion in February.
Advocacy group Families USA President Ron Pollack, siding with Team Burwell, said “In this case there is no constitutional issue at all,” and accused the Court of failing to follow its usual guidelines in hearing the case.
And Pollack hasn’t been the only one to speak out. The American Cancer Society, along with other anti-disease groups, filed their own amicus brief back in January. The brief stated that ending federal subsidies to HealthCare.gov would “put 9.6 million people at risk of losing coverage, and make them more susceptible to chronic disease.” [pullquote align=”center”]The Supreme Court will decide if the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies are legal or not, and people on both sides of the issue are starting to rally support. The Supreme Court will decide if the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies are legal or not, and people on both sides of the issue are starting to rally support. The Supreme Court will decide if the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies are legal or not, and people on both sides of the issue are starting to rally support. [/pullquote]
In response to Carvin’s arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “If we read the provision and the statute as a whole, the way you are reading it, then we will need to focus more on the federalism implications.”
Kennedy added that Carvin’s arguments would raise constitutional questions about how statutes are read.
Carvin went on to mention that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Team King, Medicaid would in turn be illegal.
Conservatives are growing more and more confident that the Justices will rule that the White House overstepped. “The legal case against the administration is strong,” said Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru.
He also added, “Ruling accordingly won’t kill the health-care law.”
Ponnuru stated that because many people are affected by this “lawless presidential action,” supporters of the subsidies think it should be untouchable. Congress and state legislatures are the proper places to deal with this issue and that “the commentary about the case as a death knell for Obamacare is overstated.”
But that was back in February. Now the smart money, the so-called conventional wisdom, seems to be on Team Burwell.
Ralph S. Tyler, writing for The Hill, said that a Team Burwell win “can be made with considerable confidence: the federal government will prevail in King, perhaps by a reasonably comfortable 6-3 margin.”
Tyler counts Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan as easy votes for Team Burwell, while Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito will likely go Team King. Team King already has the advantage going in according to these numbers.
That leaves Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts as the swing votes, with Team Burwell having “more than reasonable chance of getting both,” according to Tyler.
So we’ll see. A decision isn’t expected until June, so you’ve still got time to place your bets. Whether you’re Team King or Team Burwell, we seem to be in for quite a fight. The Vegas odds are starting to come in, and King v. Burwell has all the makings of a big money fight.
Sean West is a fourth-year student. He can be reached at SW743828@wcupa.edu.