Last month, I joined with federal and state legislators involved in passing the Affordable Care Act to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the case of King v. Burwell. The plaintiffs in that case are suing to prevent millions of Americans from receiving tax credits to purchase quality, affordable coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace. Since the state and federal marketplaces first began offering coverage last year, tax credits and subsidies have saved thousands of dollars for individual, family and small business consumers. They have also saved lives for those who would not have been able to afford health care on their own. These reforms are central to ensuring that all Americans have access to health care coverage.
The opponents of health care reform who filed the suit claim that the Affordable Care Act, as written, only allows consumers to receive tax credits to purchase coverage through marketplaces “established by the State” — and not by the federal government. The plaintiffs argue that this four-word phrase — taken out of context — was a deliberate attempt by the authors of the law to compel states to administer their own marketplaces by holding hostage tax credits for their citizens.
That was never the intention of Congress when it enacted the law. I would know — I served as majority leader in 2010 and helped move the bill through the House.
When members of Congress wrote the Affordable Care Act, the availability of cost-saving tax credits and subsidies was considered a fundamental component of the insurance marketplaces in order to facilitate access to affordable coverage for all Americans. It was understood at the time that the federally run marketplaces in states that did not set up their own would operate as if they had been “established by the State,” which is why the law defines a marketplace as such — regardless of who created it.
The law is very clear: lower- and middle-income consumers are eligible to receive premium tax credits and subsidies when they shop for coverage on their state’s health insurance marketplace — whether that state established it or if the federal government established it on the state’s behalf.
Justice Antonin Scalia, a member of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing, has rejected the basis of the plaintiff’s claim before, when he said that the court should interpret a law in a way that “does least violence to the text” and that “there can be no justification for needlessly rendering provisions in conflict if they can be interpreted harmoniously.”
It’s easy to get lost in the details of the legal argument. But at its root, this case is about a simple truth: the opponents of reforms that make health insurance more accessible and more affordable are now scraping at the bottom of the barrel to undo those reforms. After having been unable to achieve their goal through more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or undermine the law — and there will be yet another vote in the House this week — they are now seeking to do so using our nation’s courts.
There is much more at stake in this case than the wording of a law. If the law’s opponents were to succeed in dismantling this important affordability provision at the heart of the Affordable Care Act, premiums would go up for many. The insurance marketplaces would unravel, leaving millions of Americans without a way to purchase affordable and potentially life-saving coverage.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in King v. Burwell this month. By then, millions more will have enrolled through the federal health insurance marketplace for coverage in 2015. Nationwide, more than 9.5 million have signed up for coverage, but Americans still have until Feb. 15 to get covered for the year. Considering that the law was written to make health insurance more affordable, it would defy logic for the court to rule that consumers’ premiums for 2016 must increase to a point where, for many, they would be prohibitively expensive.
That’s why I’ve joined this amicus brief to defend the core principles of the Affordable Care Act. The consequences of a ruling against the availability of tax credits to Americans in all states would be contrary to the clear intent of the statute and have a far-reaching and devastating impact on so many working families.
I am confident the Supreme Court will make the right decision and rule in favor of the millions of people who are benefitting from these cost-saving measures. In so doing, the court would be upholding the clear meaning of the law and affirming Congress’ unambiguous intent to make affordable, quality coverage available to as many Americans as possible.
Steny Hoyer is a Democratic Congressman from Maryland.
Published: March 5, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 47