clock menu more-arrow no yes

King v. Burwell: This one weird trick could help save Obamacare

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court will rule this month on King v. Burwell, a case arguing that Obamacare's insurance subsidies are illegal. A decision in favor of President Obama's health-care law could solidify its place in history — but one against would throw the insurance expansion into chaos.

Up until the ruling, Vox will collect the most important news, commentary, and thoughts on what could happen — and what it means for the Affordable Care Act.

Same SCOTUSBlog time, same SCOTUSBlog channel — The Supreme Court will release more opinions today, beginning at 10 am. As always, SCOTUSBlog is your best bet for following the news. And if you'd like to see me panic, you can always do that on Twitter! And here's who I'll be following on Twitter.

If you just heard about King and need an overview — Of course we have a card stack for you.

If you're a diehard King nerd Of course we have a 4,000-word history of how this case got to the Supreme Court in the first place. Enjoy!

Is this Obamacare's escape hatch? It's messy, but it could work: Nick Bagley and David K. Jones, two experts who have followed this case incredibly closely, told me about the controversial way the Obama administration could, in theory, start using a looser definition of what counts as a state-based exchange.

Changing what counts as a state-based exchange would spark a new Obamacare controversy, fierce political blowback, and new legal challenges. And the White House, so far, has been steadfast in saying it doesn't have any administrative authorities to soften the blow of an anti-Obamacare ruling.

Bagley and Jones don't think that's quite right: While it would be far from a ruling in favor of Obamacare, this regulatory action could create just enough wiggle room for the White House to take some steps to keep subsidies flowing to more states than they otherwise would. More here.

The Democrats' Obamacare fix is in — And, unsurprisingly, it's what President Obama already suggested: a one-sentence bill that would make clear all states should have insurance subsidies. Reuters:

"The Supreme Court, I'm hopeful and confident, will rule the right way. If they don't, we're ready to move on it quickly," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters.

Reid did not elaborate. But No. 2 Senate Democrat Dick Durbin said that if the administration loses the case, Democrats would offer a short piece of legislation clearly saying the tax subsidies are also available to people on the federal exchange.

And Greg Sargent with more details:

I can add more: According to a Democratic leadership source, Democrats already have a one-sentence bill written on both sides — in the House and the Senate — and it will be introduced in both chambers at the "first available opportunity" if the Court ruling requires it.

Republicans, for what it's worth, rejected this type of fix a few weeks ago when Obama raised the idea.

Have Obamacare's subsidies worked? Robert Pear and Margot Sanger-Katz in the New York Times say yes:

More than seven million people are enrolled in the federal health insurance marketplaces, and a majority of them — 87 percent — receive subsidies in the form of tax credits to help pay their premiums, the government says. Without subsidies, many would be unable to buy insurance.

The subsidies also appear to have drawn substantial numbers of younger, healthier Americans into the new insurance markets, stabilizing premiums, even for people who pay the full cost themselves

Why the big Supreme Court decisions always come at the end of June — Orin Kerr flags a helpful explanation.

Maybe Republicans end up caving on subsidies... — Ramesh Ponnuru foresees it happening. "After months of observing and talking to Republicans ... I expect Obama to get most of what he wants," he writes. "My guess is that if the court strikes down the subsidies, Congress will extend them pretty much as is." His argument is compelling, and worth reading in full.

...or maybe they don't Ezra Klein on Ponnuru:

Ponnuru's argument is convincing, but it rests on one critical assumption: that Republicans will feel they need to pass something.

But there's another possibility, too: that Republicans won't feel the need to pass something, and will be content to unite around a bill that Obama rejects, or around no bill at all. That might be true even if the aftermath is a political disaster for Republicans.

Senators: They're just like us! Obsessed with King v. Burwell, we mean. Via National Journal:

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said he had been "incessantly" checking the Twitter feed of SCOTUSblog—a legal website that runs Washington's most-followed liveblog on the Court's decision days—while at the airport Monday. But finality never came.

Map of the day

This map shows what I would argue are the five different types of marketplace models right now. The two partnership models, official and unofficial, could be important: Legal experts argue that in a post-King world, the Obama administration might have legal authority to redefine those as state-based marketplaces that can distribute tax credits. More about that here.

Why a pro-King ruling might not take effect right away — Vanderbilt University's Jim Blumstein thinks procedure could slow the end of subsidies.

That's all for today. Well, except for this.

(Shutterstock)