How the Supreme Court Obamacare Ruling Helps Millions of Americans

Viji Sundaram


From our content partner New America Media:


Debbie Richardson, 62, said she had been having the “heebie-jeebies” for the last few months, wondering if she might be forced to disenroll from Florida’s health care exchange should the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the nationwide tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now, she can breathe easy.


In a 6-3 ruling handed down by the high court Thursday, the justices said that the 8.7 million people like Richardson who are currently receiving subsides to make heath insurance affordable on the exchange will continue receiving it no matter where they live. The ruling was a resounding affirmation of Congress’ intention of subsidizing insurance coverage under ACA.


“I was a wreck wondering what I’d do if Florida lost its subsidies,” said the Clearwater, Fla., resident, who didn’t want her real name used for this story, in a telephone interview.


Florida is among 37 states where the federal government set up a health care exchange – -- under ACA because those states decided they would not set up their own.


At 1.4 million, Florida leads the nation in the number of people who get subsidies, said Nick Duran, director of the Florida chapter of Enroll America, the nation’s leading health care enrollment coalition.

He said 93.5 percent of Florida residents enrolled on the exchange are getting financial assistance. Nationwide, about 85 percent who purchased insurance on exchanges qualify for assistance to help pay for coverage, based on their income.


The plaintiffs in the King v Burwell case, which generated the ruling, maintained that people who bought insurance on the federal exchanges were not entitled to subsidies. They noted that the law says financial help is available for those who enroll through exchanges “established by the state.” The Obama administration argued that Congress clearly intended to help everyone who qualified for it.


Had the court ruled against the administration, many of those on the federally run exchanges would have been unable to afford insurance, forcing them to drop their coverage. The court’s majority agreed that this would have left insurers with a large pool of sicker customers, who would need to stay insured to get required care. That would have resulted in premiums going up across the board, putting the ACA in jeopardy and caused what the justices called a “death spiral” for the law.



California, a leader in making health care accessible to most of its residents, and one of the first states to set up its own exchange, had nothing immediate to fear about which way the Supreme Court ruled on the King v Burwell case. Even so, had the ruling gone against the Obama administration, it could have resulted in changes to the ACA down the road, observed Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s exchange.


Dana Howard, deputy director of Covered California, strenuously dismissed reports in the media that enrollment on the state’s exchange has dropped by almost 30 percent this year. He said that the state registered 85 percent of renewals in January 2015, bringing the number of enrollees to 1.35 million.


“The exchange is working extremely well,” Howard asserted. “We have exceeded our projections (of 1.3 million.)”



Of the 9 million people enrolled in exchanges nationwide, the federal government pays an average subsidy of $272 a month. Richardson pays $356 for the $800-a-month plan she’s on.


She said she couldn’t afford to be without health care because she has a genetic disorder that makes her a prime candidate for a stroke unless she manages her cholesterol. Within months after her employer-sponsored health insurance ended two years ago when her company folded, the federal government stepped in to set up Florida’s health care exchange.


Richardson purchased a Silver Plan, but when it came up for renewal last October, she switched to a lower-level Bronze Plan, which has a $6,000 deductible needed to be paid out-of-pocket before coverage kicks in.


“Thanks to the ACA, no insurer could deny me coverage because of my pre-existing condition,” she said.


Richardson was more recently diagnosed with cancer. Between the two serious health challenges she faces, she said, she wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for her medications but for her insurance.


“I am not alone in this situation,” Richardson said. “There are millions out there who are like me.”


From our content partner New America Media


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