Obamacare clash reaches US high court

2015-03-04 15:54

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Washington - The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a major test of President Barack Obama's health overhaul that threatens insurance coverage for millions of people.

The case being argued on Wednesday is just the latest challenge to the law that was Obama's attempt to bring universal health care to the United States.

Three years ago, opponents of the Affordable Care Act failed to kill the law in an epic, election-year Supreme Court case in 2012.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the court's liberal justices and provided the crucial vote to uphold the law in the midst of Obama's re-election campaign.

The chief justice could again hold the pivotal vote in the current case in which the justices are being asked to determine whether the law makes people in all 50 states eligible for federal tax subsidies to cut the cost of health insurance premiums and make them affordable Or does it limit the subsidies only to people who live in states that created their own health insurance marketplaces?

Individual liberties

"This case is no less important to the future of the Affordable Care Act" than the court's decision in 2012, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine law school.

A ruling that limits where subsidies are available would have dramatic consequences because roughly three dozen states, many run by Republican governors, opted against creating their own marketplace, or exchange.

Instead, residents of these states rely on the US Health and Human Services Department's healthcare government exchange to get coverage if they don't get insurance through their jobs or the government. Independent studies estimate that eight million people could lose insurance coverage.

While Democrats dread losing the case, there's a risk for Republicans too: millions of voters in Republican-governed states would lose their subsidies. Many of those states have Republican senators up for re-election in 2016.

Republicans claim the law infringes on individual liberties by requiring almost everyone to have insurance and results in Americans paying more and getting shoddy care.

Long running political and legal fight

The new case, part of a long-running political and legal fight to get rid of the law also known as "Obamacare," focuses on four words — "established by the state" — in a law that runs more than 900 pages.

The challengers say those words are clear and conclusive evidence that Congress wanted to limit subsidies only to people in states that set up their own exchanges. Those words cannot refer to exchanges established by the federal government, the opponents argued.

The Obama administration, congressional Democrats and 22 states argue that it's absurd to suggest they would have constructed the law the way its opponents suggest — which would undermine their own program. They say the full law makes clear there is no such distinction between federal and state exchanges. But with Republicans controlling Congress, Democrats have little hope of tweaking the law's language.

The idea behind the law's structure was to decrease the number of uninsured. The law prevents insurers from denying coverage because of "pre-existing" health conditions. It requires almost everyone to be insured, so that healthy people can offset the costs of the sick, and provides financial help to consumers who otherwise would spend too much of their pay check on their premiums.

Both sides in the case argue that the law unambiguously supports only its position. So far, lower courts have been split on the issue. A Supreme Court ruling is expected by late June.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us

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