Earlier today, the wingnuts thought they had scored a victory in their battle to deny poor Americans affordable health insurance with a ruling from the DC Appeals Court. Even the mainstream news and liberal websites were using apocalyptic language to describe the ruling, but it turns out to mean just a little less than jack shit. Two Republican judges on a three-judge panel ruled that the federal government can’t provide subsidies to people who sign up for health insurance on the federal exchange. Their ruling is based on ignoring the precedent that an ambiguous law must be interpreted by looking at the legislative intent and that deference is given to the manner in which the regulatory agency interprets the law. The ruling isn’t surprising, since one of the Republican judges previously said the ACA was an “unmitigated disaster” and that premium cost have sky-rocketed. Both of these claims fly directly in the face of the facts, so we shouldn’t be shocked when this judge proves to not be an impartial trier of facts. The dissenting judge, however, plainly states what this case is all about, a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut” the ACA.
So when the story broke, the wingnuts began their celebration, going so far as to call it a “deathknell” for the ACA. Reports of the ACA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated for several reasons.
First, this ruling is by a three-judge panel of the DC Appeals Court. The government will file for a hearing before the full court, which will rule in the government’s favor since it isn’t dominated by conservative ideologues wanting to take away people’s health insurance. Second, another court, the 4th Circuit Court, also ruled today on ACA subsidies and found them to be legal. Third, there is a good chance the Supreme Court will not even hear an appeal. When the full DC Circuit Court rules in the government’s favor, the score will be 2-0 against the wingnuts. The Supreme Court will not have conflicting lower court opinions to resolve and could easily choose not to hear any appeals and let the lower courts’ rulings stand. At that point it is game over for those who want to force poor people out of their health insurance.
So, as is usually the case, don’t take the headlines and initial reports at face value. They generally turn out to be wrong, and in this case, much ado about nothing.
P.S. In other news that will depress the wingnuts, an estimated 20 million people have received health insurance through the ACA.
UPDATE: In the extreme unlikelihood that this purely partisan opinion is validated by the Supreme Court in the future, there is a rather simple way to negate it. A state only has to pass a one-line bill saying that for all purposes the federal exchange is the state’s exchange.