Let’s start by stating the obvious: The reason this case is up there at all is that the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare (the President himself calls it that), is highly controversial on ideological grounds. The whole Republican Party is in dragon-slaying mode against it, and this case has been orchestrated by the dragon slayers. The ACA has already survived its deadliest challenge back in 2012, but this one is still formidable. And it all seems to hinge on two justices: Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts. (The latter is the Chief Justice.)
The law provides that there will be health care exchanges, and it gives the states the option of setting up their own. Of the 50 states, 16 have state exchanges; in the other 34, persons looking for health insurance through the ACA use the federal exchange (the one that had all the computer problems about a year and a half ago). As part of the arrangement, the IRS has been subsidizing persons in the lower-income brackets through tax breaks, and it has done this for subscribers in all 50 states. However, it’s been discovered that there’s an obscure line in the law the says these tax-credit subsidies will be available for persons purchasing insurance through exchanges–and here come those key four words–“established by the states.” Is the IRS breaking the law by not limiting its subsidies to persons living in states that have state exchanges?
According to the people challenging the law–and again, these are the dragon slayers whose crusade is against Obamacare–yes, the IRS is breaking the law, because the law only allows subsidies in those states that have exchanges. However, the government is making a case to the contrary: when Congress really intends to pass a law that gives states incentive for helping carry out a federal policy and that punishes states for not helping, Congress words the law in a way that calls explicit attention to this carrot and stick, rather than having it buried in an obscure phrase that’s barely noticeable (and it took a few years for the law’s challengers even to notice it). So, those four words may say one thing, but the overall structure and spirit of the law say another.
Okay. With that in mind, here’s an NPR report that helps update us on how things went at the Court this past Wednesday, March 4: http://www.npr.org/2015/03/07/391435773/justices-kennedy-roberts-hold-key-votes-in-obamacare-case.
Further insights from Politico: