Obamacare Subsidies Upheld By The U.S. Supreme Court

UPDATE #2: From the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative:

This is tremendous economic news for consumers nationwide. Everyone, regardless of where they live will continue to have access to more affordable health coverage to get the health care they need. It means that the health coverage of over 6 million Americans will remain accessible and that health care systems nationwide can continue to build on the progress that has already been made through Obamacare. An adverse ruling would have eliminated the affordability subsidies in states using the federal marketplace therefore making insurance unaffordable and leading millions dropping their coverage. The subsequent disruption to the insurance markets would have thrown the health insurance systems throughout the country into turmoil.

Chief Justice John Roberts stated in his opinion, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them.”

Colorado had the foresight to advance bipartisan legislation to establish our own state-based marketplace. Our marketplace customers would have been insulated from a ruling striking down the subsidies, but we recognize the ripple effect from those states more immediately impacted that could have destabilized our own health insurance and health care systems. We are pleased to know that the ACA and Colorado’s implementation of better access to coverage and care will not be jeopardized.


UPDATE: Colorado Republicans vent their rage via Twitter:

From Sen. Cory Gardner’s statement:

“Obamacare began as partisan legislation hastily rammed through Congress without proper debate or consideration. The more than five years since its passage have been marked by policy cancellations, premium increases, and millions of Americans dissatisfied with the changes to the healthcare system.

”Today’s decision bails out the careless, reckless authors of a law that has done real damage to our healthcare system. Obamacare’s problems, however, are not merely the result of poor writing. Even if perfectly authored, a government takeover of healthcare would be the wrong prescription for America…”


obamacaresThat’s the word from our friends at SCOTUSBlog: by a 6-3 margin, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Affordable Care Act insurance premium subsidies for the states that use the federal health insurance marketplace. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the powerful majority opinion:

In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—“to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. [Pols emphasis] If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is


It should be noted again that because Colorado developed our own health insurance marketplace, known affectionately as “AmyCare” after its Republican sponsor former Rep. Amy Stephens, an adverse decision in King v. Burwell would not have immediately affected policyholders in our state. It would have been extremely destructive in the states that did not set up an insurance exchange, though, which not coincidentally are in most cases Republican-dominated state governments. With that said, the case in King v. Burwell was always embarrassingly weak, relying on an elementary drafting error in an attempt to spike a major piece of legislation to the immediate, tangible detriment of millions of Americans.

Well folks, that’s not happening. We’ll update this post with local coverage and reactions.

70 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. davebarnes says:

    What Roberts has telegraphed with this decision is: the Supreme Court will not make rulings based upon misplaced/missing/extra commas. Intent of Congress is important.

  2. BlueCat says:

    With this court 6-3 isn't too shabby. 

  3. FrankUnderwood says:


    I suspect the U.S. House will commemmorate today's decision with another perfunctory vote to repeal the ACA.

  4. DawnPatrol says:

    Where oh where have the rightie trolls gone, on this day of massive failure of their collective wet dream of seeing millions suffer, die, and/or lose everything they own due to lack of basic health care?

    Every which way the GOP fascists turn lately, they see nothing but UTTER DEFEAT. And it's all just beginning. 2016 will be the year of the Democratic Steamroller.

    Say hello to 8 YEARS of President Hillary Clinton, you miserable sons of bitches. I hope you choke.

    • FrankUnderwood says:

      Maybe the our trolls are making good – belatedly – on Fat Ass Limbaugh's promise to move to Costa Rica if the Affordable Care Act made it into law.

      Either that, or they are having their talking points downloaded.

      And speaking of HRC, let's remember where Obamacare originated. It was the Republican, market-based alternative to Hillary's big government takeover of the health care industry in 1993-1994. (ah, that was then, this is now.)

      • DawnPatrol says:

        A cruel and bitter irony for these smug, unctuous bastards, n'est-ce pas?

        Next up to piss in their oatmeal and ruin their whole day? Gay Marriage!

      • BlueCat says:

        Costa Rica has a fully functional public health care system so I never got why he'd move there instead of, say, Somalia and the conservative, hand us all to private for profit insurers nature of the mandate without public option ACA is why I consider it only a minor improvement compared to what we should have if we're going to be joining the 21st century community of civilized societies any time soon. It's still high deductible, high copay for minimal coverage for the self employed and those without company based insurance, though not as bad as before. Not as bad as before is a very low bar in the 21st century world. After all, it's really Romneycare and I never would have voted for that dude.

  5. notaskinnycook says:

    I have only one comment for the Republicans and others (?)  who were hoping to see the ACA scuttled: cheeky

  6. Canines says:

    Gardner is still talking nebulous "reforms": His version of a Nixonian "Secret Plan" to end the War in Vietnam.

  7. BlueCat says:

    Scalia is having a very bad day. Needs pacifier and nap. STAT.

    "Words no longer have meaning," Scalia wrote in the dissent he read from the bench.

    They might not, but that didn't stop Scalia from piling them on top of each other in an angry heap. Here are some of the choicest of his meaningless words. (The attempt by opponents of Obamacare to argue that the law didn't say what it very plainly did say was silly to begin with; that it was rejected means that words do, in fact, have meaning. But this isn't a place to argue with Scalia. Let's just let him rip.)


    • Diogenesdemar says:

      Every comma matters!!!

    • Davie says:

      Particularly sweet is that Chief Justice Roberts in his majority opinion throws Scalia's own words back at him to justify the ruling.  

      Scalia, of course, is a much better writer than he is a consistent thinker. Words might not mean anything, but Chief Justice John Roberts dredged up some of Scalia's own from his last Obamacare dissent.

      "Without the federal subsidies… the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and might not operate at all," Scalia and the dissenters wrote at the time, back when they wanted the entire law to be crushed. Now that he's only going after the subsides, it's clear as day to him that Congress didn't intend what he said they intended last time.


      • notaskinnycook says:

        I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but one of these days Scalia's going to figure out that his smart-ass remarks always come back to bite him. It's a wonder that he's been so slow in absorbing this lesson.

  8. flatiron says:

    Sen. Gardner — put a proposal on the table or just shut up

  9. The realist says:

    Yeah, Mike Coffman, Obamacare is a disaster just like Medicare and Medicaid have been disasters.

  10. mamajama55 says:

    And, deliciously, KLZ's "Liberty" talk jocks are not around today to mourn how awful this decision is, and how it spells DOOM for health care. Other sites tell how hosts Ken Clark, Randy Corporon, and Kristina Cook tried to give 30 day notice so that they would still be able to cover the fallout from Friday's GOP meeting and this weekend's conservative summit – but they were told by the station manager that their services were no longer needed.

    Lovin' it.

  11. Craig says:

    I'm just afraid that we'll win the two most public (Obamacare and Gay Marriage) and lose the most important, the challenge to bi-partisan redistricting commissions.  The latter could result in minority status for the Dems in Congress and state houses for many, many years to come.

    • OrangeFree says:

      To throw out commissions would mean completely undoing precedent. As far as SCOTUS is concerned, redistricting is a political process that they have no say in as long as that process doesn't infringe on equal population/compactness/one person, one vote. 

    • mamajama55 says:

      Craig, why would the Court do that when it could potentially hurt Republicans (or any minority party in any district)? I'm not seeing that happening.


    • I'm worried about it, too – but the impact of an adverse ruling could be huge, and I would hope that the Supremes would take in to account that different states have different legislative processes in determining how they construe the word "legislature". Initiatives are legislative in nature.

      The alternative is possibly striking down not only redistricting commissions, but election reform measures, redistricting guidelines – anything Federal election related.

  12. MichaelBowman says:

    No Twitter puke from my Congressman? Perhaps he''s lost his appetite (again). As for Cory, isn't he a brave soul this morning, transmitting his commitment from cyberspace?  I dare him to hold a town meeting in the Denver-Boulder-Ft Collins corridor and spew that nonsense.


  13. DaftPunk says:

    Con-Man Cory is a lying scumbag!

    Tell United, Aetna, Cigna, BC/BS, and all the other big insurers benefiting from all their new subsidized clients how Obamacare is a "government takeover."

    As for all the cancellations, how about you show us your old policy Mr. Senator?

  14. Moderatus says:

    Section 1401 of the Affordable Care Act states unambiguously that ObamaCare buyers will only get subsidies  “through an exchange established by the state.”   The subsidies were intended as a carrot to persuade states to establish exchanges.  Their residents would feel less of the sting of having to buy the pricey plans.  But surprise, only 14 states went along. The others, mostly led by Republican governors, refused. Late in the game, the administration had to establish the federal healthcare.gov exchange (remember, the one that kept breaking down?) to get ObamaCare launched in three-quarters of the states. 

    Despite warnings from the Congressional Research Service that the text of the law did not permit it, the IRS handed out subsidies in those states too. 

    Politically, it was a no brainer. The president had promised “affordable” care. But without the subsidies, the plans are hugely unaffordable.  Some 87 percent of ObamaCare buyers get subsidies, and pay only about one quarter of the true price, on average.  John Q. Taxpayer picks up the rest. (About $22 billion this year for subsidies handed out through healthcare.gov).

    Defending the IRS for playing fast and loose with the law and your money, the administration’s lawyers told the Justices that the end justifies the means. It will take the nation closer to universal coverage.   Withdrawing the subsidies, they warned, would cause a “death spiral” in three quarters of the states, with healthy consumers dropping coverage and only the sick staying in the costly, unsubsidized plans. All possibly true. But contrary to the law Congress passed.

    Even Jonathan Gruber, the notorious loud-mouth MIT economist credited with designing the Affordable Care Act, is on video explaining only twenty days after the law was passed that subsidies would only be available in states that set up exchanges. In states that don’t “your citizens don’t get their tax credits.” 

    Too bad the Justices didn’t hear that. The administration’s lawyers lied, insisting no distinction was ever intended between state and federal exchanges. 


    • DawnPatrol says:

      Suck it, pea brain. You and your despicable ilk were wrong, wrong, WRONG. As usual.

      You creepy bastards LOST. Now get over it and shut the hell up. And cram your foX “neWs” link up your ass.

    • It's really too bad that every single person they asked in Congress and in the Congressional staff didn't agree with the plaintiffs. Senators, Representatives, staffers, the CBO – all of them assumed that Exchanges set up by the Federal government would be covered by subsidies.

      Roberts, Kennedy, and the four more reliably liberal justices all upheld the importance of context and Congressional intent in interpreting the law.

      Now stop being sore about it and try and make it better for a change.

      • Moderatus says:

        Then what was Gruber talking about then? He's the Godfather of Obamacare. Isn't he the one who would know?

        I want to make health care better, and that starts with repealing Obamacare.

        • “Was he in the administration, was he in the Congress, did he draft provisions of the law?” said Chris Jennings, a health care consultant and former White House aide on health policy. “The answer to all those questions is no, so just by definition he was not the architect of the law. He wasn’t a member [of Congress], he wasn’t an elected leader, he wasn’t [a] staff member to those members, he was not a political or career appointee to the administration. He was a private consultant.”

    • exlurker19 says:

      It's over, Moddy, your hopes are crushed.  But I think I saw that the Boehner is taking back his demotion of your buddy, Buck.  If it's real, there's a giant lollipop for you, right there, so curl up in your Slanket and calm down, honey.

    • Republican 36 says:

      You forgot to read the law itself and Justice Roberts' opinion. First the law. The ACA specifically states that where a state does not establish an exchange, the federal government will establish "such exchange."  42 U.S.C. 18031 and 18041. In other words, the federal government steps in and does what the state failed to do – it establishes a state exchange. That language indicates a state exchange established by a state or one by the federal government should be treated as the same under the provisions of the law.

      Other provisions of the ACA point in the same direction, but the central point is Roberts recognition that if the subsidies were available in some states but not in others, based on which level of government established the exchange, then the law would make health insurance affordable for citizens in states that had an exchange but unaffordable for citizens in states where the federal government established the exchange. As he wrote that couldn't possibly have been the intent of the Congress when the purpose of the entire ACA is to make healthcare available to citizens throughout the United States.

      This case is a classic example of why literal construction very rarely reflects the true nature of a statute, especially a complicated one like the ACA. Justice Scalia's dissent endorses a position that completely defeats the intent of the law which is an absurd position to take.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Moddy – shouldn't you be putting your time to a more beneficial use today, consoling the soon-to-be mother (again) of Wassilla Hillbilly tribe?  You might remember she was paid over a half-million dollars to promote 'abstinence'.  Geebuz…you just couldn't make this stuff up. 

  15. exlurker19 says:

    Lunch is over and it's time to stop feeding the troll.  Back to the grindstone.

  16. Davie says:

    Here is an excellent analysis of the King vs. Burwell case to discuss with your ACA-hatin' friends, acquaintances and relatives!


    For writing the opinion upholding the law, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is being hailed (and denounced) as a latter-day Earl Warren—a Republican appointee who turns out to be a secret liberal. This is hardly accurate. Roberts is still the author of the Shelby County case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and an eager member of the court majority in Citizens United and all the other cases that undermined our system of regulating political campaigns. But as his restrained and cogent opinion in King demonstrated, he is not a partisan ideologue. Quoting liberally from opinions by Justice Antonin Scalia, Roberts made the commonsensical observation that a law must be interpreted as a whole, not by the analysis of a few stray words here and there. And the context of the full A.C.A. compelled the obvious conclusion that the subsidies were intended to go to individuals on both the federal as well as state exchanges. The law would otherwise make no sense. As Roberts wrote, “The statutory scheme compels us to reject [the plaintiffs’] interpretation because it would destabilize the individual insurance market in any State with a Federal Exchange, and likely create the very ‘death spirals’ that Congress designed the Act to avoid.” Recognition of this obvious fact does not make Roberts a liberal; it makes him a judge.


    In dissent, Scalia cranked up his increasingly tired act as the Court’s sound-bite generator. According to Scalia, the Court engaged in “interpretive jiggery-pokery,” spouted “pure applesauce,” and should prompt Obamacare to be renamed “SCOTUScare.” The problem with Scalia’s dissent is the problem with the lawsuit as a whole. It’s a transparent attempt to undermine the law by whatever means happen to be available rather than by any consistent jurisprudential principle.

  17. davebarnes says:

    The truth comes out


    "It’s time to start asking the question. It’s time to be cynical. It’s time to assume the worst of this government.

    Has Supreme Court Justice John Roberts been blackmailed or intimidated?

    I would put nothing by the Obama administration that lives and rules by the Chicago thug playbook."

  18. Canines says:

    Guardian column puts it bluntly:

    For all the time and money that fanatical opponents of providing health care to the uninsured poor and middle class have poured into their legal struggle against President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), they’ve now failed twice to achieve their ultimate objective. Thursday, in a 6-3 vote, the US supreme court refused the opponents’ invitation to willfully misread the law to take health care away from millions of people.

    Showing a legal craftsmanship that has too often been absent from his major opinions, Chief Justice John Roberts calmly obliterated the latest challenge to the ACA, providing a model of how to properly read a statute. (Hint: if your method of statutory interpretation shows that Spain was invaded by the “Moops”, you’re doing it wrong.)


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