WASHINGTON, July 22, 2014 — The District of Columbia appeals court today ruled that the federal government cannot give subsidies to anyone who purchases health insurance through the federal government’s insurance marketplace. Since 36 of the 50 states refused to set up exchanges, the people in those states, who are required by law to purchase health insurance that they cannot afford, must buy insurance through the federal exchange. With no subsidy, their rates will likely at least double or triple.
Since they can’t afford to pay that amount, is the ACA doomed?
The law clearly states that the subsidy is available only to people who bought plans through the state exchanges. The successful appeal noted that it is “implausible to believe that Congress gave the IRS discretion to authorize $150 billion per year in federal spending” especially since the law clearly states that subsidies are paid to those who enroll in an exchange “established by the state.”
The Obama administration will likely ignore the ruling and will file an appeal arguing that it was the “intent” of Congress to pay subsides to all low income individuals regardless of their ability to pay. Obama argues that, regardless of the specific language, Congress really wanted to pay subsidies to all those in need regardless of the exchange where the insurance was purchased. But there is a problem with that argument.
An intention is defined by Webster’s dictionary as a “determination to act in a certain way.” Presumably to make a determination, a rational individual has gathered information, made an assessment and then formed a determination for a course of action. The ACA was pushed through Congress on a late night vote. It was also done without any of the members of Congress actually reading the law they were voting for.
Then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, “But we have to pass the (health care) bill so you can find out what’s in it.” She tried to convince members of Congress to vote for the law without reading it. Every member of her party went along, but not one member of the opposing party agreed to foolishly pass a law before knowing exactly what is being voted on.
Since not one member of Congress read the law and therefore could not gather sufficient information, it is impossible to know what their determination was and therefore impossible to know what their intentions were. The appeal should fail, except for the fact that of the 11 judges on the full appeals court, seven are from the president’s party and four were appointed by Obama. This raises the question of whether the court will rule according to the law as written or whether prior bias will cloud their judgment.
Under normal conditions, this problem would be relatively easy to solve. The court would instruct the President to go back to Congress and modify the law that they passed to be more clear about the payment of subsidies. Of course this won’t happen because the President refuses to negotiate any modifications in the law. Instead he makes changes to the law through executive order, regardless of the will of Congress.
Obama knows that the majority of Congress, who represents the majority of Americans, will not agree to any changes without a full discussion of the law, likely resulting in other changes that the President will not agree to make. Since negotiation between Obama and Congress never seems to happen, taking this route is impossible.
In our representative Democracy, there is no reason why the country should be in this situation. Every previous President would call in the leaders of the House and the Senate to negotiate a bill that is at least somewhat acceptable by all parties. This president failed to do that and, as a result, he can’t go back to Congress to properly amend the law.