In a 6-3 ruling this morning, the Supreme Court backed a key part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The case, King v. Burwell, hinged on whether individual states that don’t have their own healthcare exchanges could still be subsidized by the federal government. The high court decided yes: those states can still benefit from federal subsidies under Obamacare.
Chief Justice John Roberts—who was appointed by President George W. Bush—and fellow conservative-leaning justice Anthony Kennedy joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to uphold federal subsidies, which will help an estimated 6.4 million people preserve their plans under Obamacare.
At question was whether just four words in the Affordable Care Act, “established by the state,” meant that individual states that declined to set up a health exchange could also decide that residents in those states were barred from obtaining federal benefits. Writing for the majority, Roberts sided with the way Congress meant for the law to work:
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.
Writing for the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia chided his fellow justices for interpreting the law in context:
Today’s interpretation is not merely unnatural; it is unheard of. Who would ever have dreamt that “Exchange established by the State” means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government”?
Scalia was joined by justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.