Justice Scalia trashes how the Obamacare law was written

Antonin ScaliaREUTERS/Brendan McDermidJustice Antonin Scalia

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the latest dispute over President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law, and Justice Antonin Scalia trashed how the law was written.

“This is not the most elegantly drafted statute,” Scalia said during oral arguments. “It was ­­it was pushed through on expedited procedures and didn’t have the kind of consideration by a conference committee, for example, … that statutes usually do.”

The latest debate over Obamacare turns on whether the US can subsidise insurance for people living in the 34 states with exchanges that were set up by the federal government. Scalia, like most of the other conservative justices, is expected to rule with the opponents of Obamacare.

The case famously involves just four words of the law. One part of Obamacare says people who buy insurance through marketplaces “established by the state” get subsidies; opponents say that means people living in states with marketplaces set up by the federal government don’t get subsidies.

Indeed, a literal reading of that section of the law would suggest that people in the 34 states without state-run exchanges wouldn’t get subsidies. However, that reading of the law means that an estimated 8 million people will lose their health insurance; that’s probably not what Congress intended.

Why didn’t the law include four more words to the clause regarding subsidies (“or through the federal government”)?

Scalia — who described the law’s “imperfections” — may have a point. The 800-page bill might not be perfect.

Still, the Affordable Care Act might withstand this latest round of scrutiny if potential swing voters Justice Anthony Kennedy or John Roberts vote to save it.

In 2012, Roberts surprised many people by upholding another key part of Obamacare: the mandate that most people buy insurance or pay a penalty. The court is expected to issue a decision in the recent case by June.

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