All Eyes On The Supreme Court

On Wednesday, March 4, the attention of many lawmakers will turn to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments are slated for the statutory interpretation case of King v. Burwell. The issue in this case is whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides tax subsidies to individuals who purchase insurance through the federal exchange, in addition to the subsidies for those who purchase insurance through state-based exchanges, which is explicitly stated in the law. Since implementation of the ACA, individuals meeting certain income levels who buy insurance through either a state- or federally-administered exchange have been receiving tax subsidies, pursuant to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) interpretation. However, the plaintiffs in King argue that the statute only provides subsidies to people who purchase insurance from “an Exchange established by the State,” as written in plain English in the health reform law. The government contends that the legislative intent of the law was to treat all exchanges in the same manner with regard to subsidies and that this one cited phrase is contradicted by the rest of the law.

It has been estimated that seven to eight million people would lose their subsidies if the Supreme Court rules against the Administration. This decision could be a detriment to Republican legislators, who are eager to see the ACA repealed but do not want to face the wrath of voters losing their health insurance. While the Administration insists it does not have a contingency plan if the federal subsidies are indeed found to be outside of statutory authority, Republicans such as House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have publicly stated the need for and their intent to form a contingency plan.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, March 3: The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on “National Institutes of Health.”
  • Wednesday, March 4: The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on “Food and Drug Administration Budget.”
  • Thursday, March 5: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “Examining the 340B Drug Pricing Program.”
  • Thursday, March 5: The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will hold a hearing titled “America’s Health IT Transformation: Translating the Promise of Electronic Health Records Into Better Care.”