The White House declared victory for the Affordable Care Act after a pair of federal appeals court decisions on Tuesday, saying one court’s ruling trumped another’s earlier in the day that dealt a significant blow to a key provision of the law.
“Another partisan attempt to harm the Affordable Care Act failed today,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “This latest attempt was undermined by a unanimous judicial panel in the 4th Circuit. The law was designed to make health care affordable through tax credits — and it is working.”
The “partisan attempt” Earnest referred to was the 2-1 decision handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday morning that invalidated an IRS regulation which allowed the implementation of health subsidies that are a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act. Earnest said this defeat was trumped by a unanimous 3-0 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued on Tuesday in Virginia that
held the key provision of Obamacare is legal.
Both cases dealt with the question of whether the federal government has the authority under the Affordable Care Act to distribute premium subsidies to help individuals buy health insurance.
The plaintiffs in both cases challenged the healthcare law by arguing the way it was written does not allow for subsidies to be provided by the federal government. They pointed to a statute that says subsidies should be issued to plans purchased “through an Exchange established by the State under Section 1311” of the Affordable Care Act. Section 1311 establishes the state-run exchanges. Because of this, the plaintiffs said the law does not permit subsidies in federal exchanges.
In response to these arguments in both cases, the federal government has maintained Congress’ intent in crafting the law was clear. Government lawyers argued the Affordable Care Act was created so as many people as possible would be able to acquire affordable health insurance with subsidies provided either through a federal or state exchange.
Despite the defeat in the D.C. Court of Appeals, going forward, the Obama administration does have the seeming legal edge. An administration official told Business Insider earlier Tuesday it will request an “en banc” hearing from the full D.C. Circuit Court reviewing the ruling. The court is split 7-4 toward Democratic appointees.
Because of this, legal experts consider it likely that, if the court does decide to review the panel’s decision with a full bench, the administration is likely to prevail. Either way, Tuesday’s dueling rulings could set the stage for a major Obamacare case in the Supreme Court.
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