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Protesters outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act.
Another court rules.
One of the last legal challenges to attempt to undercut the whole of the Affordable Care Act has been pretty much decimated by Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The basis of this challenge was a selective reading of the law that suggested Congress didn't authorize tax credits for people buying insurance on the federal health insurance exchange, only on the state-established exchanges. Thus, these conservative Obamacare-haters argued, the subsidies for people in the three dozen states on the federal exchange were illegal.

The judge disagreed.

"Plaintiffs' proposed construction in this case—that tax credits are available only for those purchasing insurance from state-run Exchanges—runs counter to this central purpose of the ACA: to provide affordable health care to virtually all Americans," Friedman wrote in a 39-page decision. "Such an interpretation would violate the basic rule of statutory construction that a court must interpret a statute in light of its history and purpose."

His reasoning? The federal exchanges—which the Obama administration is constructing for 34 states that declined to build their own—"would have no customers, and no purpose" if the challengers' logic were adopted.

"In other words, even where a state does not actually establish an Exchange, the federal government can create 'an Exchange established by the State under [42 U.S.C. § 18031]' on behalf of that state," Friedman wrote.

Friedman actually read the entire law, giving him the advantage of understanding how it all works. It's hard to see an appellate court that wouldn't reject this challenge as clearly as Friedman did, and there's no indication yet of whether there will be an appeal.

So ends the last foundational legal challenge to Obamacare. (Well, there is an even goofier one led by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and other Republicans that says the law is unconstitutional because the bulk of it originated in the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts has already turned down an emergency injunction to stop the law on this basis, and it's really, really unlikely that the courts will want to wade into a House-Senate spiff). The remaining challenges hit at specific provisions, like birth control or employer contributions for members of Congress and staff.

The Supreme Court spoke, and the law kicked in on January 1. It's pretty much all over now except for the continued, slowly fading shrieks of the wingnuts.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:19 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your title might be mis-interpreted to be a claim (9+ / 0-)

    that this one particular case is the last one in play against Obamacare.

    However, in the scheme of things the Hobby Lobby case on health insurance for reproductive health care should suitable be considered a challenge to Obamacare....at least for Democratic Party coalition purposes.   Last I heard, that case was still in play.

  •  slowly fading shrieks of the wingnuts (5+ / 0-)

    unfortunately, I don't think those noises ever stop

  •  Anyone else watching the debate tonight? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    here4tehbeer, Pluto

    Intelligence Squared is debating the motion "Obamacare is beyond rescue".  Starts at 6:45... pretty much right now.

    Stream live (and free) here

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:42:34 PM PST

  •  I wish this were the end but it's not. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Losty, JBraden

    The same issue has been raised in other courts (e.g., Oklahoma).  I believe that this DC District Court is the first to reach the merits -- in the others, the administration's motions to dismiss on the basis of standing were denied.

    However,  this and the other cases will work their way up through the Ct. of appeals and the Supremes, and the issue won't be settled until the Supremes decide, which will probably depend on whether Roberts does the right thing like in the original ACA or decides to be a jerk.

    The more time that passes, though, the more people will be getting the subsidies, and a Court challenge that takes them away will be pretty outrageous, even by the standards of the Roberts Court.

    •  Roberts did exactly what he wanted to do (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cofcos

      he used the taxing power to uphold the right of the government to use the force of law to compel citizens to pay money to private institutions. That is something that even Rehnquist could not accomplish under Bush (although he did enough by installing Bush in the first place).

      And it opens the door to horrible new laws. For instance, Congress could pass a law demanding that you pay 2% of your yearly income to Goldman Sachs. And according to the Roberts Court, that's perfectly constitutional.

      His vote for the ACA was a vote for the 1%. It happened to coincide with a piece of legislation championed by a Democratic president, but that's just a coincidence. The important thing is, corporations now have more power over American citizens.

      The more time that passes, though, the more people will be getting the subsidies
      The subsidies do not keep pace with medical inflation after 2019. That means the cost of insurance will far outpace the subsidies and we'll be back to where we were before--unaffordable health care. And then, too, Congress could slash the subsidies or eliminate them.

      But even if Congress eliminates the subsidies, you can't cut your losses and get out of the game. You'll still have to buy insurance no matter how expensive it is--either that or pay the penalty, thanks to the individual mandate.

      And then, once enough people realize that they'll save more money paying the penalty than by buying insurance, they'll have to up the penalties. Otherwise the insurance companies won't get enough clients, i.e. victims to fleece. See where this is headed?

      "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

      by limpidglass on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 05:46:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But the penalties are unenforceable as written in (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Losty

        the law. That's the little secret.

        "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

        by zenbassoon on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 05:59:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  ..and the whining continues (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        happyshadow, Bethesda 1971, patbahn

        I checked out the ACA website that so many on these blogs claim will cost them a staggering premium each month. The premiums are actually very reasonable.
        A person 61 y/o making $30k/yr will pay $98-210/mo. depending on which plan he wants.
        A family of 3 making $65k/yr will pay $340-515/mo.
        Not bad at all.
        But, the yakkers keep on repeating what they hear rather than checking it out for themselves. I know. You're gonna say it won't work no matter what.
        But, it seems your wanderings cover even more ground than the average republikan. It has moved into the area of paranoia.
        Does your counselor agree with your what-ifs?

      •  Like the salt tax in France shortly before the (0+ / 0-)

        French Revolution?

  •  the courts are crafty enough (0+ / 0-)

    to pick and choose which cases will allow them the best opportunities to enact the verdicts they want to enact.

    If they rejected this case, it may not be because they disagree with it in any substantial way, but only on narrow legal grounds.

    The functionaries of our bought-and-paid-for corporate judiciary are subtle, clever, and have endless patience.

    They will spend a long time waiting, looking for the ideal case to come along, the one that allows them to get the desired verdict while justifying it on the basis of the specific legal principles that float their particular legal boat. They may even collude with potential plaintiffs, covertly advising them on how best to shape their case so as to make it easiest for the judges to come up with the desired ruling.

    For instance, SCOTUS denied to hear Liberty University's suit against the ACA's employer mandate. That does not mean that SCOTUS does not want to strike down the employer mandate (I suspect that they eventually will). It may simply mean that Liberty University's suit didn't offer them an optimal pretext for doing so, and that they would prefer to wait for a better opportunity.

    Democrats, of course, think that the ACA is a done deal merely because it passed Congress and got Obama's signature. And if they think about it at all, it's to cheerlead for the law--even as the administration and the judiciary quietly change the execution and the interpretation of the law to such an extent that it becomes very different from what was advertised.

    The concept of "activist judges" is absolutely true, it's not just a Republican fever dream (in fact, the Republicans are the most guilty of putting activists in the judiciary). It is not poets, but judges who are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

    The last time Democrats bothered thinking about this aspect of the judiciary was in 1937. FDR won that battle, but at great cost and enormous expenditure of political capital that could have been used more constructively.

    You'd think the Democrats would have learned their lesson from that, but it appears not. Even after Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 05:20:16 PM PST

    •  Wordy. (0+ / 0-)

      Anything over 50 words is not going to be read. It's wasted wind.
      But, if it makes you feel good to vent, then who am I to complain. I have only to mouse right over it just like everyone else.

    •  I think you're overgeneralizing about judges (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JuliathePoet

      Yes, some (not all) of the JJ on the Supreme Court seem determined to rule in favor of the corporate takeover of the country every time they possibly can.

      In my experience, lower court judges come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from big law firms to legal services and public defenders, and do not necessarily reflect any particular ideology. They also (unlike SCOTUS) can't pick and choose which cases to accept -- they have to rule on the merits on everything that gets filed.

  •  Is this the one that the IN AG (Zoeller) brought? (0+ / 0-)

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 05:57:58 PM PST

    •  Dangerous indeed. (0+ / 0-)

      Your M.L. King's quote reminds me of the white boys beating the freedom riders in the South back in the sixties. Those ignorant white boys just couldn't stomach someone of a different color having the same freedoms as they.

  •  Jeez! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean, doroma

    This is why Congress can't get anything accomplished. They keep beating this dead horse of theirs.

  •  Reduced by 1/10th? that doesn't sound so bad.... (0+ / 0-)

    We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

    by bmcphail on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 11:19:43 AM PST

  •  HeritageCare.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tubaguy, gharlane

    Calling this health care scheme "Obamacare" ignores that the idea was pioneered by the conservative Heritage Foundation...and that it's a huge windfall to the private insurance industry...and to the Wall Street entities in which the for-profits invest many billions.
     Obama is no more "socialist" or "liberal" than the man in the moon.  He's Clinton II...one of the best (worst) Republican presidents, though draped in Democrat sheep's clothing.

    Consider the mind-bending insanity of Repugs OPPOSING a plan to hand over the entire country's health care to Private Insurers.  Funny how those insurers haven't mounted an unprecedented media and lobbying campaign to crush the anti-Obamacare Repugs.

    This is a completely fake "battle", apparently designed to lure the US majority, who'd prefer a govt (we the people) funded and administered (Single Payer) health plan, into supporting the worst possible health system Just Because the right wing opposes it.
     Who wants to be seen as a Tea-P Right Wingo, eh?    

    We're lucky that the Right Wing doesn't oppose clean water. The US "left" would be promoting dirty water in a minute just to not appear to be on the wrong side.

    •  Wow, somehow RobJoy (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      geez53

      hasn't come round to wag a finger at you to claim you're "whining" or "too wordy".  Must be getting tired.

      As even the POTUS pointed out, this is Romneycare, gone national, which as you point out, is Heritagecare.

      Thanks for the thoughts, btw.  I'm on the fence about the ACA overall, in terms of balance of good and harm and "better than nothing" (or not), but your points are very well taken.

      "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." - James Madison

      by gharlane on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 11:35:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My best prediction for the year ........ (0+ / 0-)

        Just after the elections, rethugs will start calling it the Affordable Care Act more often than ObamaCare. By 2017 they won't use ObamaCare at all.

        21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

        by geez53 on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 06:04:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Depends. (0+ / 0-)

          If it works and people like it overall, they'll -- hell, they might even call it RomneyCare or HeritageCare.  Or TedCruzCare or whatever.  If it winds up being unpopular, it'll be DemocratCare.

          "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." - James Madison

          by gharlane on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 02:12:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Right Wing opposes clean water Haliburton loophole (0+ / 0-)
    •  Whatever you call it.... (0+ / 0-)

      it was always going to be a boon for the health insurance industry.  Of course they were and are pleased as punch about it.

      What they don't like is that fundamentally and technically, Obamacare is a much needed "Patient Protection/Consumer Protection vehicle.

      The basic requirements concerning medical coverage and eligibility, etc., makes sure the insurance companies can no longer screw their policyholders.

      There were many ways they could do that, all the while taking in your premiums every month.  You could be purged from the rolls at any time if you became too expensive by getting too sick, or, having an accident that was too horrific, and that cap they tacked on made sure if you reached it, you were no longer welcome.

      Some say this will cost the insurance companies too much and they can't possibly deal with the above-mentioned regulations, along with another regulation that says they must spend 80% of your premium on your medical care; no longer can they use more then that on CEO bonuses and padded administrative costs.

      However, down the line, when Obamacare is fully implemented and millions more are covered, the premiums will more than make up for their "sacrifice."

  •  The GOP would rather you die (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    geez53, cocinero

    What an odd world we live in, when the politicians almost fall over each other in a bid to keep poor Americans from being able to obtain healthcare insurance. They would rather people died-as did over 45 thousand each year- than to see healthcare reform. How sad is that?

    •  You have to understand, the Anti-Choice crowd (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gee1

      is just Pro-Baby. After you're born, No SNAP, No health care, No unemployment benefits, No jobs, No educational assistance, No labor support etc.

      Starving, desperate masses know their place when Massa walk by.

      21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

      by geez53 on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 06:17:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  our major challenge now is... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the oklahoma kid

    ...ensuring that Obamacare is a net asset to Democrats this November...

  •  Supported Obamacare until yesterday (0+ / 0-)

    Went for my annual check up yesterday and learned that my Aetna policy which has served me well for almost 8 years was terminated on December 31.  Didn't even get notification of this so I've been without coverage for two weeks without knowing it.  Worst of all though, after spending half a day yesterday looking for a new policy it's clear that the best I'll be able to do is double my premium for "bronze" coverage under the ACA.  My wife's Blue Cross policy will go the same way in August.

    People.....this is apparently just starting to filter through the system and I think I can guess what the result will be.  At first glance, my ACA bronze policy is nearly identical to my terminated Aetna policy but at more than twice the cost.  

    Not the "solution" I had hoped for.  As more and more policies are terminated (some without notice apparently)
    and more and more premiums are doubled for the same coverage, I think it's safe to say that the ACA opponents can go on vacation and let the program itself do the work for them.  Very disappointing.

    •  That is not Obamacare that failed to notify you (0+ / 0-)

      it was your insurance companies duty to inform you that as of renewal time you needed to apply for a new policy.

      There is always more to the story than meets the eye.  Not knowing how your old policy compared in coverage to your new one under Obamacare, it is difficult to comment, and I shouldn't.

      However, time and time again people who have had their old policies "cancelled," and feel they are paying too much for their new one fail to compare the gains they actually have made with more complete coverage.

      Also, many complaints that have aired on Faux News and other media sources that have been investigated turned out to have important elements left out, i.e., people were actually eligible for a subsidy and didn't know it.

      I hope you will find positives instead of negatives.

      •  Where did I say Obamacare failed to notify me? (0+ / 0-)

        I didn't.  That failure obviously falls squarely on Aetna.  But maybe part of the ACA should have been a requirement that insurance companies notify customers by certified mail when the policy is terminated.  No need to get into the catastrophic consequences that could have ensued for me and others not knowing we were without coverage.

        As for your speculations and  loose assertions, I am not eligible for subsidy, the ACA plan has marginally better benefits but certainly not enough to justify a $575/month premium instead of the $225 I was paying.  I can afford it but I wonder how many others who have been cancelled can't afford to add $250/month or more to their budget but still don't qualify for subsidy.  I love the fact that pre-existing conditions are no more but the "affordable" portion of this act clearly doesn't cover enough territory when it eliminates anyone making more than $60K annually.

        Before you call me a troll from the dark side I'll go on record saying I don't think healthcare lends itself to capitalistic principles to begin with which is what we still have with the ACA.  Treating humans who have gotten sick or had an accident shouldn't be a business and the rest of the civilized world figured this out half a century ago.  

        •  Maybe the exchange isn't for you? (0+ / 0-)

          If you aren't eligible for subsidies- is there any advantage to the exchange for you? You just need a compliant policy. If you could get a fantastic policy from Aetna originally (your premium was enviable), maybe there are other policies out there outside the exchange that will work better. The Exchange is really aimed at people eligible for subsidies. The bummer for you is the unexpected cancellation without notification, putting you under unpleasant time pressure.

          The insurance companies on the exchange, however,  have had to change the deadlines for coverage retroactively to Jan 1. They've been more messed up than the launch of the Exchange site. I had no trouble enrolling via the Exchange on Dec 8, but the insurance site was a mess and unable to accept payments for the first premium for a long time. Chat said they were working on it... I finally managed to pay it by Dec 31 ( their deadline had shifted to Jan 10) after phone calls and getting to another page. As of Jan 17, I still haven't received any info about my policy, an ID card, and how to make the next payment. Rather ironic, considering all the dissing of the government site....

      •  It was your title: (0+ / 0-)

        "Supported Obamacare until yesterday."

        However, you  did go on to state your well-founded gripe with Aetna, and your story was very revealing.

        As one who is retired from the health field, the strides made in coverage for millions more in this country is gratifying.  I do not have blinders on, I know there are adjustments and fixes that will have to be made as the program progresses.  I am fully aware that some will be paying more than before, some less, but the overwhelming newly insured is a step forward into the 21st century for our country.  The ultimate goal will be worth it.

        Thank you. I appreciate your civility.

    •  Aetna is the villain, not ACA (0+ / 0-)

      The policy cancellations are obviously a way for the insurance companies to make gobs more money and have nothing to do with ACA, and were apparently not predicted. They want people to go on the exchange and get a more expensive policy, which a lot of people will now be able to afford because of the advance tax credit. I had to drop insurance several years ago when the premium rose to 53% of my income and the deductible doubled, so I still would go into debt for any medical care and forego eating. The Exchange shows the same obscene premium costs, but my income is so pathetic that I can afford the $53.19 per month for me (total premium is over $800) plus heavily subsidized deductible and max out of pocket costs. I thought the deductible/oup were misprints, they seemed too low by a factor of ten... This is for a Silver Plan, which typically is the best deal if you are eligible for subsidies. If you didn't look at Silver plans, look again. Make sure you go through the whole calculation with a proper estimate of your adjusted gross income as defined by the law.

      When the ACA was first being devised, I looked at the Kaiser calculator for subsidies and remember thinking there would be a problem for people just beyond the limit for subsidies, though (above $45K for singles, higher for families). The aim of the subsidies was to keep insurance premiums below 10% of adjusted gross income. Richer people would have no trouble without subsidies, but people beyond the cutoffs but not rich enough would be paying more than 10%. That seemed like a gap that would need to be closed, although I don't know if it improved after passage. This does seem like a first step and not a final form. Anyway-look at the percentage of your income that is now needed for premiums. Under the pre-ACA system, I was paying 25%, 30%, 35% and finally was broken at 53% when I became uninsured.

  •  Ah, the DC court (0+ / 0-)

    Teapubs are saying it doesn't count if anything is ruled on there.

    :) the above thoughts come from a crazy mind. ;)

    by Shreve on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 06:52:37 PM PST

  •  Just don't understand (0+ / 0-)

    What is it about most people finally getting healthcare that they object to? Is it that the profits of a few wall street billionaires will suffer? Are they just bad people through and through? What is it that they're so mad about?

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